Connected in crisis

Monday, 25 May, 2020

Connected in crisis

The University of Auckland reacted quickly to ensure students remained connected while learning from home during recent lockdowns. 

With many students unable to access the tools they needed to take part in remote learning, UoA coordinated a major IT relief effort that saw 443 laptops loaned out to students to facilitate virtual lecture attendance and course work completion. With the uni set to remain in remote learning mode until Semester 2 convenes at the end of July, a further 190 devices will be sent.

Earlier this month the government announced a support package which will help to extend and sustain the scheme. The university has received over $800,000 from a $20 million government support package to assist eligible tertiary learners get digital devices, modems and internet connections.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific Damon Salesa says the funding is extremely welcome as students continue to seek support to stay connected.

“When Level 4 lockdown was announced the university was very aware that a significant number of students would be disproportionally disadvantaged,” Professor Salesa said.

“We knew some students who did not have laptops, Wi-Fi or a quiet space to work would face challenges. The university was committed to supporting students as best we could, and providing a free laptop on loan was one initiative we could introduce quickly. Having gotten the university’s teaching and learning online quickly and effectively, we needed to be sure we could connect with our students.”

Renee Motion, the university’s desktop asset manager, tagged and despatched hundreds of devices from a makeshift distribution centre in her home’s garage.

She is part of multi-department team quickly set up just before lockdown to manage the complex logistics of supplying devices to students as learning rapidly shifted online.

“All 250 laptops we had set aside for students went in the first two weeks of Level 4 lockdown, so we ordered in an additional 400 devices to meet the ongoing demand. Since then I’ve been dealing with between 10 to 45 requests for devices every day,” Motion said.

The university has also increased the amount of money available in the Student Emergency Fund, which provides short-term financial support for those deemed to be in hardship to cover costs such as rental payments, food, power and childcare.

Under Alert Level 2 the university has been able to resume a much wider range of activities, including the reopening of study spaces on a first come, first served basis from 18 May, with social distancing and cleaning regimens in place. However, teaching remains online until Semester 2 begins.

Image credit: © Merzlyakova

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