Computer donation program supports remote learning for IU students in need

The COVID-19 pandemic that caused classes to shift from in-person to online, and made virtual instruction an integral part of education, highlighted the need for available and reliable technology. Unfortunately, some Indiana University Bloomington students lacked the laptops needed for remote learning, making the transition challenging.

laptop screen shows people holding a virtual meetingView print quality image
IUpcycle is looking to build upon its recent donations of laptops to ensure that any IU student who needs one can get one. Photo by Getty Images

However, two Ph.D. candidates in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology at IU Bloomington are working with the IU Center of Excellence for Women & Technology to ensure that any IU student who needs a laptop can get one -- important again during the current intersession. Kaitlin Doucette and Allie Smith co-founded IUpcycle (pronounced "IU Upcycle"), where people donate used and unused personal laptops and tablets to be redistributed to students who need the technology.

Since the program started in November, Smith said, nine laptops have been received and five more are scheduled to be donated.

Smith and Doucette, both associate instructors in the Department of Biology, said some students reached out to them for help early in the year when IU announced that classes would switch to virtual formats. Smith said that when students returned home, they would no longer have access to the technology they needed for remote learning, whether it was a laptop or Wi-Fi, because they had relied on school computers.

The graduate students scrambled to help students as best as they could, securing some laptops to loan. The experience motivated Doucette and Smith to find a better solution: a way for people to donate unused laptops that could be given to students.

"We rely on computer technology, and working from home could be a real problem," Doucette said. "While the majority of students have laptops, we didn't want others to get left behind."

"We wanted to make a program that if you don't have the means to buy a laptop, you could get one through a donation," Smith said.

Smith and Doucette received support for the idea from Tuli Mukhopadhyay, director of graduate studies in the Department of Biology, and assistance from the Center of Excellence for Women & Technology.

"We are very happy to assist Kaitlin and Allie to launch this program, and we have loved their passion for helping IU students," said Michelle Bartley-Taylor, senior associate director at the Center of Excellence for Women & Technology.

IUpcycle addresses a clear need, Bartley-Taylor said. She personally knows of a student who shares a computer with her brother at home, meaning the two must work around each other's class and assignment schedules to make it work. Some students are accessing classes from their smartphones, which can work for attending class but it not conducive to completing assignments, she added.

"Access to technology, including laptops, is expensive not only to own but also to maintain," Bartley-Taylor said. "It is a privilege for those who can afford it. Many IU students face this challenge, which is now exacerbated by virtual learning."

The laptops and tablets that are donated to IUpcycle must be functional, but they cannot be IU-owned. The most common need for the laptops is word processing and online access, Doucette and Smith said. Special needs, such as Photoshop or other programs, can be specified.

Laptops can be dropped off at the Center of Excellence for Women & Technology office, 501 N. Park Ave. on the Bloomington campus. Register to donate a laptop by completing an online form. If you have a question, email Doucette at kkdoucet@iu.edu. Students who would like to receive a laptop should connect with the center to get on a mailing list.

Doucette and Smith said they'd like IUpcycle to continue even after COVID-19 is under control, because it's likely that virtual instruction will remain an integral part of education.