Students debug financial, technology barriers to online learning

As courses have moved online, some students are dealing with technology barriers to online learning that are exacerbated by the lack of accessible information on what COVID-19 resources UBC has available.

Even though it may seem as if most students have access to some form of basic technology, unforeseen circumstances can still arise.

Third-year arts student Jenna Ehling said her laptop was stolen in term two around the time the transition toward online classes began. While she was lucky to have been able to borrow her sister’s computer, she still faced internet connection issues at home.

“My whole family’s at home and they’re at work and they’re on Zoom calls, and I’m on Zoom calls [too],” she said. “There have been many, many times where we’ve all looked at each other and you’ve got that ‘Your connection is unstable’ [message]. And I missed the professor talking, and I was hopefully praying that whatever they said wasn’t too important.”

Carlie Tigley, a third-year student in science, said her laptop was also stolen. But if she didn’t have access to another computer, learning would have been more difficult.

“I think the most rational idea would be to go to a public library or the library at school, but because those are closed, I don’t know what I would do in that situation,” she said.

For students who relied on UBC or other public spaces for computer or internet access, obstacles to online learning are even greater. Those students are left wondering what support they can get given the lack of resources posted on UBC websites.

404: resources not found

Cole Evans, AMS president, acknowledged that adequate learning technology is a concern.

“Accessibility to tech has been at the forefront of our advocacy to the university,” he said. “[The AMS is supporting] students who are disadvantaged by not being able to participate in in-classroom learning, and might not potentially have the means to acquire technology to participate in online learning.”

In an emailed statement, UBC Media Relations’ Director of University Affairs Matthew Ramsey said the university was supporting students with the establishment of a laptop loan program and a bursary for software and hardware.

“We know there are some students on our campuses who were challenged by a lack of technology when the university shifted to online course and exam delivery,” he wrote. “When that transition was made in mid-March, the university set up a laptop loan program to help those students.”

One of the only mentions of laptop loans on UBC websites, if not the only one, was a short-term library loan program established long before COVID-19.

When asked why the new information could be found nowhere online and how students could access the programs he mentioned, Ramsey directed students to contact their enrolment services advisor.

In comparison, a Simon Fraser University spokesperson encouraged SFU students to apply for bursaries and contact their financial advisors. However, the university listed its Emergency Technology Assistance Program which offered students $700 for tech upgrades on its COVID-19-response page until the program’s May 8 application deadline.

“Emergency assistance funding initiated in late spring term was meant to be one-time funding, and we will have paid out roughly $3 million dollars within that short period of time,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.

Neither Ehling nor Tigley said they had been made aware of the resources available, nor had they heard of the laptop loan program, which speaks to broader student complaints of a lack of clarity around COVID-19 resources.

“I loaned one once from the library, but I wasn’t aware there was one you could bring to home,” said Ehling.

Tigley was equally surprised.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it. If I knew of a resource like that, I would definitely find that beneficial.”