Students react to Ohio State discontinuing iPad distribution

The Lantern
As the Digital Flagship Program evolves, the university has announced April 26 that it will no longer be providing iPads for incoming students April 26. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

After Executive Vice President and Provost Melissa L. Gilliam announced in a universitywide email the end of Ohio State’s iPad distribution April 26, current first-years and future low-income students found themselves without guaranteed access to a personal device.

The Digital Flagship program , which included collaboration between Ohio State and Apple was announced in 2017. It provided technology kits, including an iPad, case, keyboard, Apple Pencil and AppleCare to incoming freshmen, beginning with the 2018-2019 class.

IPads are most often used to monitor emails, complete coursework and check Carmen, the online portal for class materials and grades. A 2020 Student Life survey found that 96 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that the tablets “were useful for academic purposes,” and 90 percent of devices were active on a weekly basis. Ohio State also received national recognition for this program.

University President Kristina M. Johnson said in April Ohio State planned to evolve the Digital Flagship program and may provide devices on an as-needed basis. However, students have expressed concern with this change.

Julia Frost, a first-year in anthropology, said during her college visit at Ohio State, the distribution of free iPads was discussed, but the program’s cancellation was not mentioned.

“I ended up buying a MacBook instead, however, I regret not having an iPad,” Frost said. “For many of my classes, it would help me immensely if I had an iPad and a MacBook.”

In January , department chairs and faculty expressed concerns about planning instruction in the absence of the technology, students working with older, less functional devices and the impact of the potential end of the program on low-income students.

Avaya Bell, a third-year in teaching English to speakers of other languages, said throughout her time at Ohio State, she’s used her iPad for most of her college needs, which she said she wouldn’t have been able to have without the program.

“I doubt I would have made the effort to purchase an iPad,” Bell said. “Instead, I probably would have continued using handwritten notes like I did in high school.”

Bell said she has at least one online class per semester, making her iPad necessary because her laptop cannot access Zoom.

University spokesperson Chris Booker referred the Lantern back to its April 26 article, which included statements from Ohio State, when asked to provide a statement. When the university announced the end of the distribution of iPads, Gilliam said changes to the Digital Flagship program will allow the university to tailor the program to the needs of each student.

“This new approach will enable us to focus on technology access and skill building for all students in a more sustainable way, and I look forward to seeing what you will do with these new resources,” Gilliam said.

The university created an iPad loan program for eligible students for the 2022-23 year, according to the Digital Flagship website . A supply of devices for a semester or program-duration loan will be available for students who don’t have access to their own. Students can reach out to their academic advisors and the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation if they need to loan technology, according to the website.

Ricky Pinkava, a first-year in mechanical engineering, said he is surprised the university no longer provides iPads but is happy he received an iPad on loan this year after his Physics 1250 class made him eligible.

“I am happy that I qualified for a loaner iPad because I use it for all of my classes, and it has become necessary for my workload in college,” Pinkava said.

Myah Dworning, a second-year in zoology, said the program is part of what set Ohio State apart from other universities.

“The Digital Flagship program was very unique to other colleges,” Dworning said. “It had a significant role in not only her decision but those of others to attend.”

To offer comments on the university’s current digital strategy or suggestions for the future, complete the university’s feedback and future strategy form .

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