Having the flexibility to determine where, when, and on what device you will get your work done is becoming increasingly prized. The University of Toledo knew that, for its students with disabilities, this type of mobility was more than a nice perk; it enabled scholarship. To open access to vital adaptive technology and other campus computing resources, the university put desktop virtualization to work. And the impact of expanded access has profound potential.
"It's about providing a rich learning environment to students," said Courtney Burry of VMware, which partnered with the university on the Assistive/Adaptive Lab Project.
"Moving to desktop virtualization really allows you to embrace BYOD, embrace the consumerization of IT, and allow your students to have the ability to access their courseware across devices and locations," said Burry, group product marketing manager in the Enterprise Desktop business unit.
The Back Story
Assistive or adaptive technology can help a person with an impairment to use software through features like speech-to-text, text enlargement, and screen readers.
The idea of a virtual assistive/adaptive lab at the University of Toledo started with the observations of Angela Paprocki, assistant provost for student success. She'd been giving thought to the fact that, although the university had adaptive labs on campus, they were not open 24-7, and the location created barriers for students departing from the daytime, on-site learning model.
As a result, students with disabilities had to decide between purchasing expensive software licenses on their own or losing flexibility in pursuing their studies.
As Paprocki mulled over the idea that everyone but students with disabilities had the freedom to choose their study environments, the "wheels started churning," she said in a recent Webinar with VMware. Paprocki also saw an opportunity for streamlining IT across the university -- if certain processes could be optimized.
"The other difficult thing we would encounter was the fact that certain colleges would need certain programs, and it was very difficult to manage who had what," she said. "So software was being purchased by multiple areas, and we weren't making the best, most efficient choices."
The university worked with VMware and several software vendors to create a virtual environment loaded with adaptive technology. The virtual environment used a Dell EqualLogic server for storage and two Dell PowerEdge Blade Servers that provided 120 virtual lab seats with 40 licenses.
Keeping the end user in mind, the university worked with a student test group to vet software performance and virtual lab access issues. Through student feedback, the university implemented an access dashboard with multiple log-in options, including social media sign-on through Facebook.
Vendor relations were key to the success of the project, because software customization was necessary to ensure optimum performance in the virtual environment.
Here are some benefits that the university achieved through the virtual lab projects:
- Expanded student access to educational support materials through virtual lab seats
- Customized lab environments aligned with the support needed for specific disability types
- Increased mobility for students, who can work now from any location that suits them
- Greater IT efficiency driven by centralized management and fewer versions in play
- Cost savings from fewer adaptive software license purchases and fewer hardware purchases
Getting Closer to Equal Access
The university is considering ways to make the virtual lab available to a broader audience, Paprocki said. By forming a higher education consortium in Ohio, universities could lower adaptive license fees by combining their purchasing power and shifting to a fee-for-use monthly licensing system.
Also, making adaptive technology available to nonprofits, state agencies, and school districts could empower more people with disabilities to transition successfully into college and then the workforce.