Access to technology plays a significant role in students’ academic success, but a large percentage of students have little to no access to these resources, causing them to face many additional challenges at school.
Sam Hagewood, a 21-year-old psychology major at the University of Memphis, said he uses the Technology Hub, the 24-hour computer lab in the University Center that offers 80 computers, printers, collaboration space and student workrooms, regularly for classwork and printing purposes.
“I have easy access to my laptop at home, but I don’t own a printer, so the Tech Hub is almost always where I go to print documents,” Hagewood said.
The digital divide, or the gap between those students who lack access to technology and those students who have it, can affect students’ abilities to complete assignments and even to submit college applications, according to an April 2017 study of approximately 7,000 students conducted by the American College Testing program’s Center for Equity in Learning. The center conducts research specifically aimed at closing gaps in economic opportunity and achievement for underprivileged populations.
Of respondents who reported having access to only one device for all internet access, 85 percent reported having low family income, being a first-generation college student or identified as a minority. Additionally, 47 percent of students who reported relying on one device said they depend exclusively on a cellular data plan for internet access at home. Students with only one device may have to share access with other family members, limiting their time to work on school assignments.
Hagewood said the Tech Hub makes things convenient for him because of its location on campus in the UC.
“With the Tech Hub being in the middle of campus, it makes for a convenient stop if you need to print something off or send an email real quick,” Hagewood said.
Shelley Hand, the assistant coordinator of clinical practice for the U of M’s Office of School-Based Clinical Practice, said she is aware of the disparity between students who have ready access to technology and those who do not.
“There have been a couple of students who have to come to campus (because) they don’t have that ability at their house or wherever they’re staying,” Hand said. “There are students who have to resort to using their phone for lots of things, and maybe a phone or mobile device isn’t even compatible for that thing.”
Hand said her office requires their employees to perform background checks on themselves, and those who do not have around-the-clock access to the internet may struggle to complete this task from a smartphone.
“The software that (they) have to use to obtain the background check is not compatible with a mobile device,” Hand said.
Hand also said she thinks the U of M does a great job at making technology accessible to every student.
“A lot of schools don’t have the push for technology like we do here,” Hand said. “Most departments are supportive of technology use and wanting students to have that availability.”
Hand’s office works with many graduate and returning adult students whom she says may not have had a “digital experience” before.
“It’s a little different when a student is in that situation,” Hand said. “There are resources on campus that are there. They just have to reach out and ask for help.”
Students can use the Tech Hub in room 265 of the UC all hours of the day.