Equipment loan schemes have long been an essential contributor to academic achievement for many students. Now with the Covid crisis exacerbating the inequalities that exist, their role in higher education has only increased. As much learning moved and then stayed online, laptop loaner programs have provided vital support, addressing digital poverty at this critical time.
According to ECAR, 10% of new undergraduates do not own a laptop, yet it’s a piece of equipment felt by almost all (99%) to be important to academic success. Pre-pandemic, fewer than half of faculty encouraged or required students to use their own technology in class. Now with remote and hybrid learning very much the norm, having access to your own computer is essential to taking part in class and for completing assignments.
Solution to the crisis
Institutions leading the way through the crisis are firm in their resolve that no student should fail or drop out due to an inability to access online classes. Laptop loaner schemes have been developed or extended so no students go without. Student debt is an economic crisis in itself, and institutions are supporting students by encouraging them to borrow laptops rather than take on greater financial burden. For student populations displaying disproportionate levels of poverty, it can amount to hundreds of computers and licences for key software.
Where established schemes already exist, typical laptop loan durations are being extended to support off-campus study. So for example, a scheme that usually allows 4 hours of use within the library building is now being lengthened to 30 days. Or where 24 hours may have been typical, two weeks is now permitted for ‘emergency use’ and is then often extended further.
From Lorensbergs’ Educause survey, we see that 25% of institutions provide lending from a central store – often a media center, library or central IT area, but 54% organize it from specific departments or faculty. In these cases, the kinds of equipment on offer often represent the more specialized needs of the students they serve based on classes taken, with laptops being just one kind of equipment on offer.
Of course laptops are one of the more fundamental pieces of equipment needed. Loaner schemes are providing them in increasing numbers, along with mobile hotspots and software roll outs to support digital accessibility. There’s an array of other resources that continue to be important though, especially for modules where more hands-on creativity or experimentation is expected.
According to Kaltura’s 2020 survey on the State of Video in Education, there’s an increasing expectation for students to create video. For example in 2019, 31% of institutions reported half or more of their students creating video for class. In 2020, it was approaching 50%. With an efficient video equipment loaner scheme in place, there’s no reason to halt creativity and delay learning until students are back in the classroom.
So while affordability is the top reason for running equipment loan schemes their value goes beyond this. Support for learning outcomes with access to the right equipment and more accomplished creativity are also incredibly important.
Universities offer expertize when making a store of hardware available to students. Having the equipment professionally managed ensures it has the right specification for the task. Plus it’s much more likely to be maintained in good condition and to be regularly cleaned, which of course is especially important these days.
While some institutions may rely on student ownership of smartphones for video production while off-campus, even in these cases, microphones and other accessories are often loaned out to students so they may enhance audio and visual output from their devices.
Improving services with the right support
The importance of having enough support to ensure resources reach all who need them can't be under estimated. For example, 80% of institutions are providing video equipment to some degree, but only 30% are doing so sufficiently, so there are some shortfalls that need resolving.
Limited availability of equipment and reservation slots that are too short are causing the most frustrations. Students also feel that the systems in place for access are sometimes inadequate.
Listening to students, the top 5 suggestions for raising equipment loan service standards are:
- Improve resource availability
- Make it possible to reserve items in advance
- Speed up checkout times
- Make reservation system easier to use
- Modernize outdated systems of access
The top problem – resource availability – is expensive to fix solely by buying more equipment. After all, we’re talking about equipment that’s often high value, such as good specification laptops, video cameras and lenses. A solution that both improves availability while also addressing these other areas is to adopt a well-designed online reservation system. It improves availability both through the option to book ahead and with better turnaround on resources used. Students will become more aware of the whole range of resources too, and it can even reduce overdue items and losses. Read more in our guide to equipment checkout software.
So with equipment loaner pools playing such a vital role in higher education, make sure you have the right support in place to administer and deliver the services needed. More information on the connect2 equipment checkout solution is available here.