Ohio State Not Afraid to ‘Change the Game’ Digitally
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — David Graham knew there would be backlash when Ohio State announced it was going to spend $400,000 to provide iPads for its student-athletes.
So he wasn’t surprised when the emails started rolling in.
“You have to think that way,” Dr. Graham told The-Ozone during an exclusive interview.
“You have to think about the backlash. You have to think about the pros and cons of the situations, so we had people around the table and we talked about that.”
The University dealt with some of these same issues when they started a similar laptop program more than a decade ago, but this was a little bit different. The emails kept coming.
“A lot of people wanted to know how we could spend $400,000—or whatever the price tag is—to give privileged athletes more,” said Graham, Ohio State assistant provost for student-athlete success.
“I empathize with their perspective. We have to figure out how to balance and empathize with those people when they have those comments, while also doing what we feel is in the best interest of our students.”
Changing the Game
For those who don’t already know—which seems to be most everyone—Ohio State has been providing student-athletes with university-issued laptops on a check-out basis for nearly 11 years.
“When we started providing these laptops years ago, that’s when laptops were the new thing,” Graham said.
“Over the last few years, most students are coming to school with laptops already, so our laptop program has become an antiquated way to serve our students.”
That’s what it comes back to, according to Graham. Despite the criticism he has received from those who view the iPads as an unnecessary benefit for varsity athletes, especially ones who are already being given a free education.
“We do empathize with fans, but after all of that happens, if we still come back to the feeling this is the best interest of our students, we move forward,” Graham said.
“We have a grand opportunity here at Ohio State to be a leader across the country. Our naysayers will say we are changing the game. We want to change the game. We want to be leaders.”
The iPad initiative, in collaboration with the Ohio State Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), is a part of Ohio State’s Digital First program, which looks to transform the educational experience on campus through technology.
Going back 10-12 years ago, laptops were just starting to become readily available to college students. Most families were just unwrapping their first desktop computer at home, but technology is shifting more rapidly than ever, Graham believes.
“When you’re engaged in higher education, you have to stay abreast of emerging technologies," he said.
"And tablets are the new big things."
Ohio State is moving rapidly into the digital era. It’s now possible to imagine a day, in the not-so-distant-future, where professors will no longer use actual textbooks; moving instead to completely digitize the higher learning experience.
The iPads will allow OSU athletes to access university email, Carmen (Ohio State’s online course management system) and Ohio State library databases. It will also allow them to use Pages and Numbers for word processing and spreadsheet creation, FaceTime, Skype and other tools that will enable coursework to be completed while they are competing on the road.
“Whenever you look at technology like the tablet, I think it has some advantage to time management, to communication,” Graham added.
“I’ve talked to my strength and conditioning guys and we’ve talked about how we can merge a calendar we can send to our student-athletes that will incorporate not just academics, but athletics as well. This is not just going to be an academic benefit but a life-knowledge benefit.”
More and more professors are moving towards interactive lectures, which allow students to actively participate in class through digital technology. At the University of Michigan—another school providing iPads to athletes—students have been using the Web-based LectureTools system for several years.
Developed by Perry Samson, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at Michigan, LectureTools is the first iPad app to integrate student-response, note-taking and inquiry system with cloud-based storage.
Students can type notes right on instructors' lecture slides and mark slides they found confusing or important for later review. Because they can store this information on iCloud, it can be viewed anywhere from the classroom to the library to the dorm room.
At Ohio State, the iPads will come preloaded with the standard apps provided by Apple, along with another list of educational apps provided by the University. Students will be able to personalize them through their own iTunes account.
“If you already have apps or music you’ve purchased on your cloud, you should be able to use that information as well,” Graham said.
“If there are other apps we want them to have, we have the technology that allows us to control that. At the same time, it allows them to have some independence.”
More Benefit than Benefits
Student-athletes will be able to check out iPads at the beginning of each academic term. The one major difference between this program and the laptop one it will replace is that the athletes can keep the iPad for the entirety of the academic semester.
“They have to check them back in at the end of an academic term and they can check them back out at the start of the next one,” Graham clarified.
Ohio State University has already handed out the first 500 iPads this semester, with a goal to provide every student-athlete (about 1,100 total) with the technology in the next two years. Many of them went to Ohio State football players, but not an unreasonable amount—at least according to Graham.
“Whenever you have football as a primary recipient of anything, you have to make sure you uphold gender equity and equity across the board,” he said.
“What we did was try to make sure we had 250 males and 250 females.”
Along with emails from concerned fans, Graham has also received phone calls from other universities around the country. They all want to know the same thing.
“I’ve heard from a lot of schools asking how we do it,” said Graham, who admits the iPad initiative could give the Buckeyes an advantage in recruiting, even if it doesn’t last long.
“At the end of the day it’s a resource question. You’re allowed to do it, but can you afford to do it? When our laptop program was initiated, not every school could afford to buy laptops for their student-athletes. That’s the part I empathize with a lot.”
At least until the next time he opens his inbox.
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