Although remote learning was made official months ago, City College administrators and faculty are only just finalizing student access to necessary software from home.
Students across academic departments rely on on-campus computer labs loaded with pricy software to follow along in class and complete assignments. Since remote learning began in March, the clock has been ticking to find a proper solution. Many students simply cannot afford to purchase the software on their personal computers.
Michele Sieglitz, who teaches Digital Media Skills (BCST 119) in the broadcast electronic media arts (BEMA) department, said her classes are now beginning using Splashtop, a software which allows students to log into specific computers at City College labs, using their own computer as a controller.
“My understanding is that the conversation about using [Splashtop] began in July, and all of the seats in the labs were literally just completed yesterday,” Sieglitz said in the last week of September—almost six weeks into the semester.
Sieglitz’s first few assignments just required a text editor and browser, so her students haven’t needed to access any special software yet.
Meanwhile, other classes have had students improvise with free trial versions, or purchase the required software out of pocket.
“I will not be taking any software-oriented classes in the future unless I can go on campus and have access to a lab, an instructor, and tutors,” said Starr Wilson, who dropped her photography and BEMA classes due to costs, compatibility issues, and weeks of troubleshooting. Wilson described the entire process as “nothing but sheer frustration.”
Tyler Breisacher, a journalism student in Sieglitz’s class, said his teachers have been accommodating and conscious of how expensive software packages can be. Breisacher’s Audio Production (BCST 120) class requires the use of digital audio software Pro Tools, but he managed to use the free version for the first assignment.
However, even with these temporary fixes, “It seems to me like we knew since probably March or April that we were likely going to be all online this semester, and so this all should have been handled over the summer,” Breisacher said. “I don’t know if that’s the administration’s fault, or IT’s fault … but it definitely was a little bit frustrating for us and you could tell it was frustrating for the teachers as well.”
Breisacher believes the bigger problem is that many students don’t even have reliable internet access. Other students struggle to fit online learning in with their jobs, the new responsibility of constant childcare, or sharing a home with family members also on Zoom calls.
Last semester, even when Adobe provided students access to its Creative Cloud tools like Photoshop for free, Sieglitz said her classes saw a “steep decline of enrollment right away after that pivot [to remote learning].”
The high cost of software and internet access disproportionately impacts low-income students. “Last semester, we were all just literally knocked over the head with the immediate transition,” Sieglitz said. “I think not a lot of students had the technology that was necessary to stay current with the course,” while others, she believes, just felt depleted not knowing what would come next.
Sieglitz and her fellow teachers spent the summer contacting future students to assess their technology needs. She recently appealed for stronger efforts toward equity at the chancellor’s weekly community meeting. If this issue isn’t addressed, “we’re going to lose the students we are wanting to reach most,” she said.
To bridge the gap, City College is lending students laptops and providing discounted mobile hotspots through the Foundation for California Community Colleges.
When asked why remote access to on-campus labs took so long, a City College spokesperson’s statement said, “The College has been working as quickly as possible to ensure all academic resources are available in a remote format, including software. CCSF is providing students with software access both through a remote desktop application and through cloud services. Faculty have been provided with the necessary training and tools to ensure they can continue to provide their students what they need as they continue their studies remotely.”
There may be hope beyond the administration’s capabilities, too. Sieglitz believes a solution is “in our backyard” in Silicon Valley. “Let’s ensure that if we’re creating the next generation of the workforce, that we’re actually being supported by the community,” she said. She hopes City College can eventually receive some of the aid these companies provide to K-12 schools in the area.