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Students clash on Digital First Initiative

Anna Duee / Lantern photographer

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As Ohio State tries to expand wireless access on campus and incorporate technology like iPads into the classroom with its Digital First initiative, not everyone is happy with the changes.

Some OSU students and professors expressed ambivalence toward Digital First and the idea of incorporating even more technology into the classroom. While they acknowledged the benefits of technology, the consensus seemed to be that the initiative can only do so much.

Digital First began as a partnership between OSU and Apple Inc., and is intended to keep the university up to speed with expanded wireless access and emerging technologies, including various Apple products such as the iPad and iTunes.

Some students, such as Emily Webster, a first-year in evolution and ecology, said broader wireless access and new technologies makes learning easier.

“In my experience, I’ve been through maybe 20 classes here, and in classes where I had better technology, and more importantly where we knew how to use it, I felt like I learned more,” Webster said.

But Jennifer Semple, a second-year in welding engineering, said more technology could lead to a greater learning curve and more room for error.

“Most professors can’t use what we have, and those who can don’t know how to use it well enough to make it useful,” Semple said. “We already have technical issues sometimes, and we have to wait for technicians to come fix it from time to time, which eats away at lecture.”

Semple said it is sometimes easier to do things without technology, and that incorporating things like iPads can needlessly complicate things.

“It’s easier to take notes by hand, especially with math, because it’s too cumbersome to type it,” Semple said. “And a laptop is just a distraction.”

Matthew Long, a first-year in aerospace engineering, said the more technology that is incorporated into classrooms, the more distractions there will be for students to face.

“I think it has benefits, but the potential distractions could potentially outweigh it,” Long said. “If people are like me, a lot of people will get more distracted by stuff in the classroom than they would benefit from it.”

Webster disagreed, technology could enable students who are more visual or tactile learners to experience the subject material in a different manner than they normally would in a typical lecture.

“A lot of the times, especially with subjects like math, it’s really visual,” Webster said. “I’m a visual learner, and when they can take a graph and manipulate it on the screen for us, it helps me understand.”

The university is rolling out the first parts of the plan with iPads being issued to student-athletes, professors in the College of Social Work and to employees at the Wexner Medical Center. The athletic department is spending $400,000 on an iPad check-out program for athletes.

Some professors acknowledged the benefits that increased educational technology could offer, but were skeptical of how students would use it, based on how students use current technology in the classroom.

“Most students don’t use laptops (in the classroom). The few students who do, though, they are clearly not focusing on the class material,” said John Oates, a graduate teaching associate in political science. “It’s hard to sort of manage that. You kind of have to trust that they are using it appropriately.”

Brad Bushman, a communication and psychology professor, said technology can be helpful, but it is up to the students to use it that way.

“I think technology is a tool, it can be used for good or ill, and if students use it to facilitate learning that’s great,” Bushman said.

Despite criticism and praise, students ultimately acknowledged the university has to change as the times change. But no matter how much changes, the focus, Webster said, must remain on maximizing education potential.

“Technology can only take us so far,” Webster said. “We can only be learning so much in such a short period of time anyways. I’m not sure how much it would enhance things if a bunch of iPads came into the classroom.”

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