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Plugging The Gaps: Hundreds Of Devices Delivered To University Students

When University of Auckland students headed home for an unprecedented semester studying remotely, many found themselves without access to a computer.

Over the past eight weeks the University has coordinated a major IT relief effort to ensure all students had equal access to devices, virtual lectures and the ability to complete assignments online.

To date the University has loaned 443 laptops to students in need, with 190 more to be sent in the coming days.

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 dollars 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 says.

“We knew some students who did not have laptops, WiFi 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, has been tagging and despatching 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,” Renee says.

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 Monday 18 May, with social distancing and cleaning regimens in place. However teaching remains online until Semester Two begins on July 27.

To keep track of student and staff movements the University has also launched an online attendance register at checkin.auckland.ac.nz.

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