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Rocket HallRoom 1815
Phone: 419.530.7916 LearningCollaborative@utoledo.edu
University provided assistive technology is provided for students with disabilities although it is often limited to specific locations and plagued by restricted hours of access. Students who need off-campus and 24/7 access to adaptive software often must purchase expensive software independently. Purchasing personal assistive software also results in limited Information Technology (IT) support with loading and maintaining the software. In addition, given the cost of the software students often cannot afford the most current versions of software and often have to toggle between the version they have and the versions available on campus. Working in two different versions increases the difficulty of working on projects and limits their ability to master any one program. To resolve these issues of access for students this project is proposing the creation of a virtual lab. The virtual lab will be mutually beneficial for the student and the University as it will increase student access and decrease the amount of money spent each year on individual adaptive software purchases. The virtual lab will house all adaptive software on "virtual" computers that will be accessible to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from anyplace in the world where they can access the internet.
Server versions of adaptive software increase access, but still have significant limitations:
- The software must be loaded onto individual campus and personal computers. Students may bring laptops into IT departments, but tracking which computer belongs to which student can present challenges. More logistical problems are encountered when a student does not have a laptop and IT must go to residence halls or off-campus housing to load software on computers. Students who are taking distance and eLearning courses may be very far from campus, so loading software on their computers is cost prohibitive. If there is a problem with an individual computer, IT must either talk the student through the issue or send someone to look at the computer, determine the issue and make the fix. Given limited staffing it could take a significant amount of time for student issues to be addressed. In short server versions require a great deal of IT time and support. Few IT departments have the manpower or budget needed to make server versions truly accessible to all students needing adaptive software.
- Even if the software is loaded on all campus computers and each student’s personal computer, students cannot access the software to complete assignments when at home or from other off campus locations like the local coffee house as other students can.
Potentially a virtual lab makes the software available to students from anywhere in the world that they have an internet connection. A virtual lab requires limited IT support as the software is loaded onto virtual computers managed through a central location making trouble shooting and loading additional or new versions of software much easier and cost effective that the use of "real" computers at a myriad of locations. If implemented at a state University level, it would ensure that students have access to the same software they are familiar when they transfer to another University. If primary/secondary schools also had access, familiarity with the software and use of the virtual lab would also ease the transition from high school to college for students with disabilities who use adaptive software. There is also the potential that a virtual lab could also be made avaialbe to state governmental agencies making the school to work transition easier for students and more cost effective for governmental entities hiring persons with disabilities.
The creation of a statewide virtual lab would potentially eliminate the need for Universities and possibly even primary/secondary schools to purchase commonly used adaptive software, or provide IT support for the use of that software. At the very least it would provide an alternative way to access commonly used adaptive software. The virtual lab would also make the most current versions of software available to students at smaller colleges or universities that might not have access to a wide variety of adaptive software, or limited IT knowledge or support of adaptive technology.
Software could also be purchased in bulk, allowing negotiation with manufacturers for the best price, and a centralized IT department would allow the adaptive software for students to be more efficiently maintained and updated as new versions are made available. This would substantially reduce cost to each institution. The virtual lab makes cutting edge assistive/adaptive software available to students regardless of income, individual campus resources or the ability to access campus resources and so helps ensure students with disabilities always have access to the most recent software versions to enable the completion of coursework in the least restrictive environment with "equal effort and equal benefit" as those enjoyed by the general student population.