​Ohio State Will Give Incoming Students iPads. But Do Tablet Programs Work?

Higher Education

​Ohio State Will Give Incoming Students iPads. But Do Tablet Programs Work?

By Tina Nazerian     Oct 19, 2017

​Ohio State Will Give Incoming Students iPads. But Do Tablet Programs Work?

Starting in fall 2018, all first year students at The Ohio State University will receive iPad Pros. It’s part of a larger collaboration between Ohio State and Apple, which also seeks to “integrate learning technology throughout the university experience,” an iOS design laboratory and opportunities for students to learn coding skills to make the ready for a career in the “app economy.”

Bruce A. McPheron, Ohio State’s executive vice president and provost, is quoted in the university’s press release saying that students having the same technology “from day one” will “open up a new world of instructional possibilities for faculty.” In that same press release, Apple CEO Tim Cook is quoted as saying students will have access “to the incredible learning tools on iPad, as well as Apple’s new coding curriculum that teaches critical skills for jobs in some of the country’s fastest-growing sectors.”

But do big tablet programs make sense nowadays?

Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger for eLiterate, doesn’t think so. He references a study EDUCAUSE puts out every year. “Basically what it says is if you look at American college students, pretty much all own laptops and smartphones,” Hill says. “A smaller percentage own tablets. But they also document that there’s not a huge interest in using tablets more and more.”

The 2017 study finds that laptops “are king, smartphones are queen” and as for tablets, they’re “on the way out.” Later in the study, it says that although about half of students own tablets, “our data suggest that the tablet market for students may be shrinking.” The study goes on to explain that the “attractiveness of tablets’ touchscreen capabilities are now being challenged by similar technology in laptops; from the other end, the allure of larger screen sizes on tablets may be diminishing as the size of smartphone screens increases.”

Hill believes Apple’s main motivation to do this collaboration with Ohio State was to sell devices.

“The way I sort of look at them, Apple is like the Godot of education, where they’re the world's largest company, and people keep waiting for them to do something meaningful in education, and not just sell devices, but actually get involved in education, change the game somehow,” says Hill.

That has been a pattern with Apple, he argues, pointing to a big iPod program at Duke University in the early 2000s, which many see as failing to live up to the hype, or the failed iPad program at Los Angeles Unified School District more recently.

That said, the project is bringing press coverage, and guesses that the college hopes that bringing standardization that could help professors try things without worrying whether students have the equipment.

At Ohio State, Cory Tressler, the director of learning programs, thinks the collaboration is a “huge opportunity” for students and for teaching and learning at the university. He adds that “Ohio in general, and really Columbus specifically, has a growing sort of startup technology culture” and that the workforce is becoming more mobile. The collaboration gives students “opportunities and inroads to create the next greatest thing.”

Tressler says more and more of technology is becoming mobile.

“So we look at the iPad platform as an extension of that mobile platform,” he says, but also as an “incredible production tool and creative tool.” He says that is one of the reasons Ohio State went with the iPad Pro, because “you look at the Pro as an input device and a creation device with the keyboard, the pencil.”

That’s different than what the iPad was five years ago, Tressler says, and where Apple is going with iOS, such as multitasking within the ecosystem, is “blurring those lines a little bit more.”

“We’re not saying it’s going to be the students’ only device that they bring to college or have, we know better than that because all of us, it seems like in the higher education ecosystem, have multiple internet connected devices,” Tressler says. “We feel this one adds an incredible value to the students’ learning experience as they go forward in our academic study and then professionally.”

Liv Gjestvang, associate vice president of learning technology at Ohio State, says she’s proud to be part of a university that’s investing in students and making this technology available “at no cost to them.” This is being funded from “administrative efficiencies.” She says first years at the regional campuses will get iPads as well.

Benjamin Johnson, the university’s director of media and public relations, says students will also get the Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard, AppleCare+, a case and a suite of apps. The retail value of each iPad and associated technology is more than $1,000, but the university will pay a discounted rate, something officials are still finalizing, he says.

As for whether future incoming classes will get different releases of the iPad, Gjestvang says the university will look at “what makes sense.”

“We’ll look at how the first roll out has gone, and then continue to be in conversation about what’s being released,” she says.

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