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HOTSPOTS: How some Eastern Iowa colleges are spending relief funds to improve technology

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WAVERLY, Iowa - Wartburg, Hawkeye Community College, and the University of Northern Iowa were three out of 43 Iowa colleges to recently receive funds to improve virtual learning experiences.

It was announced last week that almost $4.4 million were granted to Iowa colleges to improve internet access and connectivity.

More than ever, students are using the internet for classes, as they have to balance in-person learning with virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wartburg College received just over $31,000 for new technology on campus.

"'Meeting owls,' which are a 360-degree camera microphone speaker that goes in the classrooms and we have almost 60 of those on campus," Wartburg College ITS Assistant Vice President Loni Abbas said.

The "Meeting Owls" help students working from home be more involved in the classroom. This way students and teachers can communicate with each other during class, instead of the traditional "watch-and-learn" method that comes with most other virtual learning technologies.

"We also spent some on the hotspots for students. We started out with ten and thought that might be enough and we ran out right away and bought another ten. So we got twenty of those," Abbas said.

Hotspots on campus can also be rented out to students who test positive for COVID-19 and need to isolate and quarantine.

“We do have some isolation apartments that we use to send students off-campus who are positive and some of those did not have internet access, and so we provided hotspots to those students in those locations,” Abbas said.

The University of Northern Iowa was awarded over $230,000 and Hawkeye Community College over $128,000. However, representatives from all three schools say, it wasn't enough.

"While UNI is grateful for the funds that were awarded and the opportunities they provide to our students, they will not cover all of the money the university spent to provide extra resources to our students during the pandemic, including expanded WiFi service across campus. However, UNI has worked quickly throughout the pandemic to ensure all of our students, including those without internet access, receive the assistance they need."

UNI Statement

“Oh, there’s nothing left. We’ve spent at least three times that just in the classrooms and that’s doesn’t account for software that we’ve had to purchase - for zoom, and for some closed-captioning for accessibility for students with hearing impairments. So we’ve purchased well more than that money,” Wartburg's Loni Abbas said.

With situations changing almost daily as the pandemic runs its course, Wartburg College projects that more technology will be needed. The college is hoping for more relief funds in the future.

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Diego Hernandez

Multimedia Journalist

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