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OU IT Services work to bridge the digital divide

The digital divide is a complex idea which is becoming very uncertain with the rapid advancements in technology and services. The growing gap between individuals who have access to computers and the internet and those who do not are intertwined with specific demographics and geographical location. 

Lawrence Wood, associate professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies, teaches the Media and the Digital Divide course at Ohio University and has researched the topic since the early 2000s. He explained the constantly changing divide comes from the many different influencing factors.

“One component of it could be the use in costs associated with smartphone technology, and the various connectivity issues and user issues that might be associated with that,” Wood said. “I'm sure that we could find amongst different subpopulations whether it's based on geography or income or affluence.”

Wood said race, age and income discrepancies are all factors regarding accessibility and reliability of internet services. Specifically, he emphasized the issue within the rural demographic. 

“It can be problematic in rural areas just because of the cost of getting infrastructure there and because the private sector doesn't see the profitability of providing services in such areas given the costs,” Wood said. “So, there can be less adequate or less sophisticated types of broadband or speeds or reliability offered in such areas.”

Wood also acknowledged the importance of students having access to reliable technology. However, not everyone has that privilege. 

“It's probably some expectation that everyone has a phone and has unlimited data plans, things of that nature, but realistically that's not going to be the case,” Wood said.

OU offers students many options for technology resources, including the student laptop loaner program. Elyshia Taylor, IT service owner for Device Support, oversees the program. The Office of Information Technology loans a Windows laptop at no cost to help students who do not have access to technology. 

“Ohio University provides students with limited access to technology (through) multiple resources to assure they are successfully able to complete their coursework, including laptops through the student laptop loan program, as well as computers throughout campus,” Taylor said in an email.

OU created the program to guarantee that students could learn and complete coursework virtually throughout the pandemic. To request a loaner laptop, students must fill out the request form, and the requests are then submitted to the student’s respective college representative for review and approval. 

Taylor said in an email that the university has 300 loaner laptops for the program, with 270 currently loaned out to students; OIT has processed 585 requests since the beginning of the pandemic.

In addition to the student laptop loan program, the university has many other technology resources around campus available for everyone. Carrie Preston, head of Library Information Technology Services, supervises the computers that students and community members can use in Alden Library.

“There are approximately 200 total public computers in the library right now,” Preston said. “Most of those are on the second, third and fourth floor of Alden Library. There's also some on the first, sixth and seventh floors of Alden and in the Music and Dance Library at Glidden Hall.”

Alden also offers a small number of laptops available to students with their OU ID for a 24-hour loan at the fourth-floor service desk.

Taylor believes that the university provides students with an abundance of options to access technology around campus. 

“There are many spaces on campus, such as classrooms and computer labs, where students can access various technologies like computers, printers, projectors and audio systems,” Taylor said in an email. “Access to specialized software applications for things like video editing and data analysis are also available in both physical and virtual computer labs through many colleges and departments.”


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