eduroam Everywhere - Bridging the Digital Divide During the COVID-19 Pandemic ▶
The global COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge for our academic population at every level and, as a country, we are redefining our education system and how we teach, with a major shift towards online learning. The pandemic has altered the day-day activities of both students and lecturing staff alike, with both groups involved in an increasingly complex learning curve beset with obstacles and challenges.
Nationally, broadband connectivity and speeds are well below average for households throughout the Midlands, Border, and Western counties. Households with lower incomes or those dependent on welfare payments, or those in Direct Provision, are also adversely affected. In some areas, broadband is not available at all.
While the government is investing heavily in broadband infrastructure nationwide, the ‘digital divide’ remains a considerable challenge in enabling students, faculty, and staff to participate in online learning, working, and equally significantly, socialising – a key aspect in student life and mental wellbeing (an Aontas report in 2020 found that up to 59% of learner’s mental health was affected by the pandemic).
eduroam was identified as an opportunity to enhance the student experience and HEAnet undertook a high-profile, government sponsored initiative, with the full support of Minister Simon Harris, called ‘eduroam Everywhere’ and aimed at making this service available as widely as possible throughout the country. The project identified locations in the public, private, and commercial sectors where the eduroam reach could be extended beyond its traditional campus centric locations.
This presentation will provide an overview of ‘eduroam Everywhere’ as a project, what we aimed to accomplish, the logistical and technical challenges faced, and how we surpassed our own expectations of what we could achieve. This was made possible by the appreciation in each sector of the importance of digital connectivity, and the recognition of eduroam as a tool to bridge that digital divide.
With the help of the LGMA, Kildare County Council embraced the rollout of eduroam to library locations throughout the county. We have invited Rory Hopkins, Head of Information Systems for Kildare County Council, to provide an overview of their new Digital Strategy and the role that eduroam can play in this. We also looked at external locations and opportunities to leverage existing Wi-Fi commercial platforms, and successfully rolled out eduroam at various public locations throughout Kinsale, supported by Elasnik Computers. We have invited Trevor Ryan (Elasnik) to discuss the technical implementation and where educational support can co-exist within the commercial sector. And finally, as we come to terms with new phrases such as ‘blended learning’ and ‘hybrid working’, Grainne O’Keefe, CEO at the Ludgate Hub, will discuss how the Hub can be a model for similar remote learning and working hubs, and their own experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.