Waiting for Google: Adapting Courses to the Education and Broadband Desert

Concurrent Session 9
Equity and Inclusion

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Millions of Americans lack access to physical campuses and the broadband speeds needed for online education. This session guides attendees on how to adapt their current materials for resource efficiency and universal design––especially important considerations with the increased technical requirements needed to support popular learning technologies.


Carrie Murphy is the Manager of Research and Analytics for The Learning House, Inc., overseeing course quality review and client reporting processes. Carrie investigates the relationships between course structure, and student success, satisfaction and retention. She also makes data-driven recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of online course delivery, and manages the research and analysis of Learning Houses course quality initiatives.

Extended Abstract

Despite living in an increasingly connected world, millions of American adults find their educational opportunities severely limited by a lack of physical or digital access to higher educational institutions––at the intersection of education and broadband deserts. Education deserts are regions where potential students would need to travel for more than an hour to reach campus (Myers, 2018). Current estimates set the number of American adults living in education deserts at around 3 million (Rosenboom & Blagg, 2018). Broadband deserts, both urban and rural, are areas where residents are unable to access high-speed, or “broadband,” Internet due to distance, expense, or terrain. In 2016, more than 24 million Americans did not have access to high-speed Internet connections (FCC, 2018).

Current strategies to increase broadband access rely on technology companies and the U.S. government to address this concern; however, roadmaps frequently span years if not decades. This presentation will introduce ways that faculty and administrators can adapt their courses today, using the skills and technology they already possess, to better meet the needs of this underserved population and to avoid losing a generation of potential college students.

By the end of this presentation, participants will be able to:

  • Recognize the need for a broader scope for universal design for learning.
  • Define the limitations of non-broadband technology and services.
  • Assess course materials for weaknesses in digital and user accessibility.
  • Review available technology for converting existing materials to size efficient formats.
  • Apply lessons learned to their current course development process.

This presentation will focus on demonstration and discussion that address the technological barrier to equitable access of online course materials. This is especially relevant to higher education, with the increased technical requirements needed to support popular learning technologies (e.g., video capture, immersive experiences, audio recordings, and video conferencing), including many of those that will be demonstrated during the conference.

Presentation demonstrations, materials, and resources will target the needs of program coordinators, faculty, design professionals, technologists, and administrators who are interested in practical and immediately applicable lessons they can share with their colleagues. No technological expertise is required.

At the beginning of this session, the presenters will use approximately 15 minutes to summarize in plain language the need for a broader understanding of universal design for learning, and the strengths and weaknesses of non-broadband internet connectivity technologies, data compression, and data transfer. The remaining 15 minutes will include demonstrations of common adaptations faculty can make leveraging their current tools and technology. After a brief reflection period, the presenters will be available for a Q&A session to address questions or discuss specifics.


Federal Communications Commission. (2018, February 2). 2018 broadband deployment report. Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/broadband-progress-reports/2018-broadband-deployment-report

Myers, B. (2018, July 17). Who lives in education deserts? [Interactive]. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/education-deserts

Rosenboom, V., & Blagg, K. (2018). Disconnected from higher education: How geography and Internet speed limit access to higher education [Article]. Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/96191/disconnected_from_higher_education.pdf