'Laptop lending library' keeps ECU students connected

Genan Westmoland of Linscheid Library displays a few of the laptop computers now available for students to check out under ECU’s new technology-sharing program.

In a time when virtual instruction has become commonplace, a grant has enabled East Central University’s Linscheid Library to acquire and lend laptop computers to students who need them for their studies.

Thanks to a U.S. Department of Education grant, ECU was able to acquire 100 laptops for the sole purpose of making them available to students. The funds were made available under the Title III Strengthening Institutional Programming grant, which allows “creating or improving facilities for internet or other distance-learning, academic instruction capabilities, including purchase or rental of telecommunications technology equipment or services.”

A current ECU student with a valid University ID may check out a laptop from Linscheid Library for a 24-hour period to complete course work or take an exam. A student may also arrange to use a laptop for an extended period of time. Library personnel will make those arrangements on a case-by-case basis.

“The library’s mission is to collaborate with our community to provide access to resources that empower students, and that’s exactly what happened with this program,” said ECU Public Services Librarian Marla Lobley. “Even before Covid-19, a device and internet access was a necessity for students to be able to complete assignments and succeed in their courses. Now, students need to be able to access a device from home so that the variety of issues presented by Covid-19 does not stop them from completing their education.”

The concept of a “laptop lending library” at ECU blossomed out of meetings among current students and Academic Success Center staff. Dr. Jeffrey Gibson, ECU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, greenlit the grant application that was quickly approved. Shawna Case, the interim director of the Academic Success Center, and Leah Lyon, director of ECU’s Office of Sponsored Programs and Research, were also instrumental in bringing this incredibly useful idea to fruition.

“This is a remarkable program,” Gibson said. “With colleges and universities having to shift to hybrid and online instruction during the pandemic, access to technology has become even more crucial to student success. So all credit goes to our folks in Academic Success and Sponsored Programs for pursuing this opportunity, as well as to our IT team for acquiring the laptops and to our librarians for getting them into the hands of students. This is a powerful demonstration of how ECU personnel collaborate across campus to provide students access to the resources and support that will help them succeed academically.”

ECU did not have laptops to lend last spring when the Covid-19 pandemic first appeared, but still put together a technology-sharing system to help keep students engaged.

“Last spring, we knew there were many students who did not own laptops and had been depending on the library’s public computers,” Lobley said. “We had about 20 tablets that we used for teaching purposes in the library that we decided could be used for checkout in that emergency situation. It was highly successful. The tablets were checked out very quickly and made it possible for those students to complete their work online.”

All available laptops are sanitized before they are checked out to students and again after they are returned. For more information, please contact Linscheid Library at 580-559-5376.

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