Access and Integration: Meeting the Technological Needs of Our Students

Author Image: 
iJournal Author Image
Abstract: 

In this article, Quincy Martin III  and Deborah Baness King discuss the challenges of student access to technology and how two deans came together to afford students with limited financial resources opportunities to capitalize on the benefits of technology. This is especially timely as we grapple to help students with declining budgets.

Article: 

Introduction

As administrators at a large metropolitan community college, we have been challenged, yet granted numerous opportunities to truly engage, learn, and identify the immediate pulse of the techno-savvy student. However, we have also been cognizant and have tried to seek remedies to assist those who do not have the means to have technology at their fingertips, especially during exceptionally difficult economic times. In this article, we will discuss the challenges of student access to technology and how two deans came together to afford students with limited financial resources opportunities to capitalize on the benefits of technology.

What’s the Problem?

Education is a critical building block for persons of all ages, and in this day and age, access to technology is paramount. It is an everlasting progression that takes place from youth and continues through adulthood.  Students are learners that are typically equipped with constructive, sound, and pragmatic knowledge and problem solving skills (Justice & Dornan, 2001). They are more apt to become exposed and equipped to think critically about cultural diversity and how their roles play an essential function for the future implications of humanity. Students characteristically desire to constantly gain knowledge and discover something new.

Student and technologyTechnology provides students the opportunity to develop tools and skills they need in order to explore their society based on their day-to-day experiences. Not only does technology aide in expanding students’ contributions to society, it encourages them to begin to think critically about humankind and their role in its development.  However; despite the rapidly increasing need for our students to be technologically literate and the benefits of integrating technology into the learning process, the challenges of equitable access persist.

The Digital Divide: Technology Haves & Have Nots

Commonly known as the "digital divide," there is a significant gap that separates society into two basic categories.  Those that have regular, convenient access to cutting edge technology and those that do not.  For those that are afforded access, the learning process is enriched and their ability to prepare for life in a global society is enhanced.  As such, those without access are denied the educational experience that is vital to be competitive in today's job market.  As technology advances and becomes more integrated into our daily lives, the more devastating the effects of the digital divide become.  This is especially evident in these difficult economic times.

Technology is constantly and rapidly changing. As it is necessary to stay on top of technology, its growing demands, and implications to simply to keep up with society, it is just as important to afford our students opportunities to overcome technological barriers. But, in order to do so, we must first identify and define our students.  Who are they?  What are their needs, wants, and challenges? As community college leaders, we find ourselves typically having to meet the needs of an exceptionally diverse student body with continuously shrinking financial resources. Our students come from different ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, vary in age, and have a wide, varying range of computer literacy skills.

Community college students are faced with a myriad of unique challenges. These challenges may be a result of many factors including, but not limited to, economic barriers, internal family stressors, student-to-student tensions, student-teacher strains, and organizational strains (Quinnan, 1997). If not identified and taken appropriate action, these barriers and stressors could potentially facilitate personal and academic challenges that could affect the livelihood of our students.    

How Does Access to Technology Promote Student Success?

With the expansion of the Internet and the creation of more comprehensive online support programs including online courses, basic access to technology has become standard in higher education.  Content delivery has morphed to include the integration of common equipment such as mp3 players, DVD, webcasts, and streaming video.  YouTube and itunes have opened the door to endless opportunity for faculty to access outside resources for use in the classroom and capture lessons for wider distribution.  Some institutions of higher education now provide free access to all course lectures in video and/or audio format through platforms such as itunesU, a podcast library of sorts.  Immediate access to a wide variety of resources makes traditional classroom settings and student support seem prehistoric. 

Students that have access to technology can literally supplement any course, subject or research topic with lectures from Harvard, supplemental workshops from Standford and speaker highlights from UCLA all while sitting in a community college classroom.  With access to technology, the world is at the students' fingertips.  But for those students challenged by the effects of the digital divide, the opportunity to explore the world is limited and exposure to content supplementation and delivery at other institutions becomes non-existent.  In order to promote student success for all students, institutions of higher education need to take a more active role in providing access to technology for all students and ensure equity in the learning opportunities available. 

The Perfect Collaboration: Student Services and Academic Success

The face of higher education is constantly evolving as students, technology, and globalization transform.  As a result of the evolution of higher education, student services continues to experience tremendous growth and revitalization as it seeks to best respond to the world around it and the people it serves (Caple, 1998).  In order to best meet these needs, student services provides a myriad of opportunities to actively engage and promote the success of students through out of classroom experiences that fosters their social, cognitive, emotional, and moral development (Dean, 2006). What we've learned about students' involvement in extracurricular activities and out of classroom involvements, is that more and more, they heavily rely on access to technology.  But, is the role of student services enough to supplement the whole development of our students? Although, student services professionals feel strongly that their role is key in developing students through holistic approaches, it is important not to overlook the academic success of our students through other important means of academic development.

At Triton College, the Division of Academic Success, is critical to students’ academic development and success. Student success is viewed holistically, with the progress of our students being dependent on their ability to engage on all levels in the academic experience both in and outside the classroom.  Student success is viewed as embodying the social, emotional, physical and academic well-being of the students with the knowledge that retention and completion rely heavily on the student's engagement in the campus environment and the connection of this experience to the "real world".  This holistic approach requires strong collaboration between institutional areas that are responsible for providing direct support to students through formal and informal programming and services.  As a result, various areas often coordinate services to best meet the needs of students. 

What Did We Do & How Did We Do It?

When the Dean of Student Services and the Dean of Academic Success at Triton College both noticed the lack of accessible technological resources for their students, they decided to take an active approach to ensure that the needs of their students would be met. Both deans decided to create a laptop loan program and add quick check computer stations around campus to provide students with instant access to technology.

The laptop loan program allows students to check out a laptop using their student I.D. and other form of official identification.  Laptops are equipped with wireless access and MS Office 2003.  Students may check out a laptop for up to three hours at a time.  Quick check computer stations are strategically set up throughout the campus to allow students convenient computer access for up to fifteen minutes.  Students utilize the quick check computer stations to access their e-mail, various social networking sites, academic related searches, as well as a myriad of other uses.  The laptop loan and quick check computer station program were funded through institutional allocations, grant dollars and student fees.  Individually, each respective dean was unable to fund technology projects that would have significant impact on students.  However, through collective planning and shared financing we were able to maximize impact with limited dollars.

Not only were these ideas implemented and well received by students, they were embraced by the institution and written into the College’s 5-year strategic plan to continually enhance and expand the laptop loan and quick check stations campus-wide.  Student reception to the programs is evident in the high volume usage of the technology and increased demand to expand the laptop loan program to include longer loan periods and more units. 

Conclusion

As educators and administrators we acknowledge the need to integrate technology for student success.  What is often overlooked is the need to provide easy access to technology for all students.  Integrating technology into the educational experience is only beneficial to students that are afforded access.  For those that are not, the benefits of technology are lost in a sea of barriers that are often detrimental to our disadvantaged students.  By recognizing that student success is a holistic process institutions can begin to create collaborations and partnerships internally and externally to ensure maximum support and success of our students.  At Triton College, the co-creation of simple programs such as the laptop loan programs and quick check computer stations have almost doubled the available open-access computers on the main campus.  The result is more access for students on a campus that hosts diverse populations of students that are more likely to be affected by gaps of technology access, such as the digital divide.  This collaborative effort has gone a long way in supporting the success of our students and recognizing that technology without access is a wasted resource.

References

Caple, R. B. (1998). To mark the beginning: A social history of college student affairs. Lanham, MD: American College Personnel Association. 

Dean, L.A. (2006).  CAS Professional Standards For Higher Education (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.

Justice, K., Dornan, T. (2001). Metacognitive differences between traditional-age and nontraditional-age college students. Adult Education Quarterly, 51, 236-249.

Quinnan, T. (1997). Adult Students “At-Risk”: Culture Bias in Higher Education. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.


About the Authors

Quincy Martin III
Dean of Student Services
Triton College, River Grove, Illinois

Quincy Martin III has served as the Dean of Student Services at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois since 2006. He has over 10 years experience consulting, presenting, and facilitating various workshops across the country on team building, leadership development, and vision planning. Quincy is an active member and has served as leader of several local, statewide, and national organizations. He has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Development from Lamar University and is in the dissertation stage of his Doctorate of Education Degree in Adult and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University.
qmartin@triton.edu

Deborah Baness King
Dean of Academic Success
Triton College, River Grove, Illinois

Deborah Baness King has served as the Dean of Academic Success at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois since 2006. She has over 15 years experience in education with a focus on retention, support programming and grant administration. Deborah is active in several professional organizations and has served on the Board of Directors for the Council for Opportunity in Education, a national organization that is committed to advance and defend the ideal of equal educational opportunity in postsecondary education.
dbanessk@triton.edu