Faculty concerned over potential end of iPads for incoming first-year students, university yet to formally announce plans for Digital Flagship program

The Lantern
Digital Flagship, a program collaboration between Apple and Ohio State, originally announced in 2017, is rumored to be ending and many are expressing their concerns over the impact of its loss. Credit: Courtesy of Grace Buchholz, OCIO

The future of university-issued iPads appears to be in doubt, and while Ohio State will not comment on rumors that the Digital Flagship program will end, department chairs and faculty are expressing their concerns and making plans for the impact of its loss.

The program, which is a collaboration between Apple and Ohio State, was originally announced in 2017. It provided technology kits, including an iPad, case, keyboard, Apple pencil and Apple Care to every incoming freshman student beginning with the 2018-19 class.

With iPads currently in the hands of thousands of students, they’re most often used to monitor emails, complete classwork and check Carmen, the online portal for class materials and grades. While it’s unclear why the university would discontinue the program, a 2020 Student Life survey found that 96 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that the tablets “were useful for academic purposes.”

Documents obtained and interviews conducted by The Lantern reveal department chairs’ concerns about instruction in the absence of the technology as many courses were adapted for the iPads.

Claudia Turro, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said her department prepared a document outlining the impact the discontinuation of iPads would have on instruction.

The document, entitled “Impact of discontinuation of the digital flagship project on instruction in Chemistry and Biochemistry,” stated the department is concerned that losing the Digital Flagship program would lead to issues as it is nearly impossible for professors to return to paper-based instruction.

“It is all but impossible for us to go back to the past paper-based environment at this point, because we have entirely changed our structures and staffing to reflect this new and modern approach to education,” the document stated.

The document, written by Jane Jackman, vice chair of the department, stated professors routinely saw students working with older, less functional devices before Digital Flagship came along.

If Digital Flagship is discontinued, the department is worried it may affect low-income students, the document stated.

“We are concerned about the disproportionate impact on students who already face financial barriers to success at Ohio State,” the document stated.

Michael Poirier, chair of the Department of Physics, said he was uncertain if the program was truly being discontinued but had heard it was a strong possibility.

Poirier said like the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Department of Physics uses the iPads in large classes for exams and quizzes, rather than paper.

“It’s really frustrating because we really tried to embrace this program and use it as a way to innovate and do things,” Poirier said.

University spokesperson Ben Johnson said in a statement the university is considering changes to the program and will share more at a later date.

“Ohio State is considering modifications to the Digital Flagship program and will share more information in the coming weeks,” Johnson said.

Mary Anne Beecher, chair of the Department of Design, said in an email the iPads provided by the program are used “prolifically” in many courses for sketching and for students to work collaboratively.

“We’ve found that they explore design ideas more quickly in a digital space,” Beecher said. “It is very helpful for students to have access to common technology and to use the same software.”

Beecher said the Department of Design is working with the College of Arts and Sciences to provide design students iPads even if the Digital Flagship program ends.

Ohio State gained national attention and acclaim when it announced the Digital Flagship program in 2017, as it was the first program of its kind.

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