Ohio State to stop distributing iPads to all incoming undergrads

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Ohio State University will no longer distribute iPads to all incoming undergraduates, “evolving” its five-year-old Digital Flagship program, the university announced Tuesday.

One of the largest public universities in the country, Ohio State cited the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to reshape the program, removing the focus on one type of device. Because the pandemic changed the landscape for online teaching and learning on campus, OSU leaders said they’re forming a team to adjust the program to current student needs. The university said it still plans to loan devices to students who need them.

“Technology adoption has accelerated more than anticipated, providing new opportunities to serve learners on and beyond Ohio State’s campuses,” the announcement reads. “As a result, the university has made the decision to evolve the Digital Flagship program and transition to a new suite of services designed to be more impactful and sustainable, and better meet the changing needs of students.”

The future of the Digital Flagship program will focus on “digital equity, skill building, and workforce development,” according to Ohio State’s website. Students who arrived this spring are the last group eligible for the iPads. The school enrolled more than 47,000 undergrads as of fall 2021.

Ohio State began distributing iPads in 2017 to ensure equitable access to devices and build digital literacy skills. The initiative gained nationwide attention and other schools worked with OSU to inform their own iPad distribution programs, some as recently as 2021.

Maine’s Bowdoin College has also moved away from offering only iPads, adding laptops to its program so students can run software that doesn’t run on tablets.

The Lantern, an Ohio State campus newspaper, first reported in January that the university was considering ending the program, but OSU did not share a timeline or details at the time. Faculty expressed concerns to the Lantern that ending the program would negatively affect coursework and student well-being.

Ohio State plans to expand access to Adobe Creative Cloud for all students and implement virtual desktop software so students can access software they need for specific courses on any device, according to the announcement.

“To support instructors and ensure instructional continuity, we are working directly with academic units to determine needs for fall 2022,” OSU Provost Melissa Gilliam said in the announcement. “We are identifying courses that have integrated the tablets and cannot adjust to a device-agnostic approach by the start of the semester. To support these courses in the fall, we will allocate tablets directly to the colleges.”

The university said it’s also continuing to loan out devices for students who need them and keeping some of the programs developed during the Digital Flagship era, like coding courses for iPad apps.

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