Wilfrid Laurier University expands accessibility while implementing remote learning with Azure Virtual Desktop

Male in bedroom on laptop working

The recent move to remote learning revealed new challenges to accessibility as well as the need to create responsive, inclusive learning environments. According to Gartner, hybrid and online delivery has highlighted the risk of digital divides in higher education across global campuses. As many as 82% of global learners suggest that transitioning to online learning has revealed trouble spots of many varieties, including between devices.

Higher education institutions need remote learning solutions that provide students opportunities for learning no matter their device or location. Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) is committed to providing inclusive, welcoming, and affirming learning, and fully invested in ensuring that students and faculty alike can participate in the educational process.

In March of 2020, a move to remote learning and virtual computer labs proved inevitable and urgent for WLU. With Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), WLU set up virtual student computer labs with the software and necessary resources for coursework—with minimal overhead and support staff. The reduced cost of setting up AVD versus an on-premises solution is a real win, as is the ability to monitor usage and pay for that usage only. WLU also found that supporting virtual student computer labs is easier and less time-consuming for the university’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) team.

Ensuring remote accessibility for students and faculty across devices and platforms was a priority and a challenge, particularly in the case of Mac and iOS users. With AVD, WLU ensured that everyone had reliable access to the same virtual desktop experience, no matter the device. Microsoft’s support from the initial inquiry through implementation and deployment was crucial to WLU’s success.

[Azure Virtual Desktop] allowed our instructors to make labs available again, across time zones, or asynchronously as well. The students didn’t have to be necessarily in the class at two o’clock on Tuesday. They could access the software and do the lab in a time that fit them.”

—Melanie More-Duckworth, Manager, ICT Service Desk and Technical Support, Wilfrid Laurier University

Furthering accessibility goals, WLU’s ICT team set up and tested AVD with assistive technology. Additional features—like screen readers and document magnifying software—have been incorporated alongside Windows accessibility features. With AVD and Windows, WLU has ensured that the remote learning environment meets the requirements for students requiring accessibility software.

As WLU moves toward an in-person and remote learning hybrid, they are looking at reducing the number of machines in their physical computer labs. Now, students have 24/7 access—from any device—to the familiar applications and resources they need, clearing the way for reductions in overhead costs. Azure Virtual Desktop is a comprehensive solution that provides high availability access from anywhere and facilitates progress.

I think that the hybrid setting both for staff and students is here to stay. And I think AVD provides us that 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week availability.

—Melanie More-Duckworth, Manager, ICT Service Desk and Technical Support, Wilfrid Laurier University

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