Recent research has demonstrated that Remote Laboratories (RLs) in engineering education have several benefits over traditional laboratories. RLs allow students to conduct experiments without being physically present, reducing the time commitment required. Additionally, RLs offer an opportunity to include all students, regardless of their location, disability, or other factors that might prevent them from participating in traditional labs. However, despite these advantages, concerns remain about the contribution of RLs towards equitable access and their impact on digital inequality. In this paper, we present the results of a mixed-method analysis that combined quantitative and qualitative thematic methods to assess the impact of RLs on equitable access to educational technologies. To collect data, we administered a survey to students enrolled in a sophomore-level digital design course that utilized a remotely accessible Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) lab. The survey aimed to gauge the students' perspectives on equitable access and digital inequalities based on their experience using the remote lab to complete their assignments.
Our analysis reveals that RLs provide new opportunities for equitable access, but also uncovered a connection between low-income students and the challenges they face in studying under conditions of poor internet quality and limited access to internet-connected devices. These findings indicate the existence of digital inequality, which may further exacerbate educational disparities. The outcome of this study aims to guide our development of a new RL for radio-frequency communications courses, to address issues related to digital inequality and provide equitable access to educational resources. Our study provides insights for educators and policymakers seeking to promote inclusive and equitable education, especially in the context of remote learning.
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