Digital Equity, or the ability to access required technology, tools and systems to enable modern learning, has been a significant challenge across the education sector. This has been well documented here in Australia, and internationally. Not every student has sufficient internet connectivity or access to relevant tools and technologies for educational purposes, and not all schools can afford the latest equipment.
Universities are not immune from this issue. Even before the technology shifts necessitated by COVID-19 transitions, technology disparities amongst students created challenges in tertiary environments. In fact, we’ve been talking about this for over a decade. In 2011, Professor Adam Shoemaker Vice Chancellor, at Southern Cross University, examined the idea of addressing technology learning equalities by rolling technology costs into student fees:
“We see students come in on their first year…and they are on three different learning speeds. The ones who come in with a device are on one speed, the ones that have to share one at home are on another, and then there’s the ones who have nothing.”1
The recent impacts of COVID-19 have only further highlighted digital inequality within our education systems, with multiple layers of governments providing rapid support to disadvantaged families and regional areas, through mobile internet access and devices to support remote learning.
While these efforts have assisted with the short-term and have no doubt helped navigate the current situation, the core challenge of digital equity remains, and will be difficult to overcome for some time.
While modern management is not going to resolve the issues associated with universal access to connectivity and suitable technology, what it can do is provide a simple to manage, consistent device experience for teachers and learners. Modern management can lower the bar for schools and communities to gain access to the crucial technology tools and systems to support modern learning. Modern management also means that the time currently spent managing traditionally complex ICT environments can be better spent supporting teaching and learning efforts.
For a small school with limited ICT resources, they are typically unable to manage complex ICT environments. As a result, many are often left to deal with multiple device types, under a BYOD model. BYOD can present challenges in the classroom, with inconsistencies around applications and how student data is stored and retained.
In a modern management scenario, devices can be automatically provisioned at school or at home, with the right applications, security, policy and data storage requirements as part of a consistent ‘out of the box’ experience.
This provides a secure, consistent device experience for learners, across a wider range of devices, with access to the applications and learning resources that they need. Applications can be easily added and automatically deployed without even touching the device. Support is also streamlined, as loan or exchange devices can be provisioned automatically with the same configuration and access to applications and data, so students are up and running quickly.
In larger schools, ICT teams have typically provided secure, consistent access to resources and applications by using traditional systems management solutions. These solutions are complex, expensive to maintain and require an enormous amount of time developing standard operating environments (SOE), patching systems and rolling out applications and policy.
In traditional systems management frameworks, device choice is also limited, as each additional device type or configuration can mean significant additional work for the IT team in developing and managing the SOE.
With modern management, the SOE is no longer required and a wider range of devices can be provisioned and managed in the same way – locally or remotely.
The benefits of modern management are only amplified in a post-COVID world, where schools may be operating within a hybrid (campus and remote) learning environment and need to be prepared for another widespread and potentially rapid move to remote learning.
Administering technology through modern management techniques and the cloud effectively untethers learners and their devices from the campus. Let’s face it, managing remote learning from a pedagogy perspective is challenging enough without adding technical complexity and support issues into the mix.
In a small school, the technology barrier or bar is lower. For these institutions, modern management means that even with limited resources, a secure, consistent experience is possible across multiple platforms and devices. Students with varying levels of device access, can be supported and provided with an equitable learning experience from anywhere.
In a large secondary school, where the digital divide is often more prevalent, students again can access a secure, consistent experience across a wide range of platforms and devices. This ensures students can access appropriate technology and makes it easier for the school to support disadvantaged learners with cost-effective technology support programs.
When thinking about learners with special needs, what if any school, regardless of size, location and ICT capability could, with just the click of a mouse, enable a group of students to log on to their devices, making full use of the amazing accessibility features of Windows 10?
Features that support vision, hearing, neurodiversity, learning and the mobility impaired are native to the Windows 10 platform and can be deployed and enabled to support groups of learners as part of the out of the box experience.
Across all scenarios, modern management has the potential to lower the bar to ensure technology access and in reducing complexity, it can then deliver a more productive, accessible and equitable teaching and learning environment.
1. Lohman, Tim. 2011. Roll student iPad, NBN access costs into HECS fees: Monash. [Online] Available at http://cdn.computerworld.com.au/article/380224/
Tags: Autopilot, COVID-19, Education, K-12 Education, Microsoft, Microsoft Intune, Microsoft Surface, Microsoft Windows Autopilot, Mobile Device Management (MDM), Modern Workplace, Tertiary Education, The Anywhere Classroom