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​Digital Flagship educators begin preparing classes for iPad-enhanced learning

Cohort of Ohio State faculty finish initial training to make use of new teaching opportunity

Now it’s time to teach the teachers.

As The Ohio State University prepares to launch the Digital Flagship initiative at the start of the new academic year, faculty from across the university are learning how to get the most out of some new tools. New first-year students at the Columbus and regional campuses will receive an iPad Pro, case, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard at orientation.

“When they first announced the Digital Flagship initiative, it was kind of overwhelming to think that all of our students are going to be getting this technology – and it was exciting, too,” said Melissa Beers, program director for Introduction to Psychology. “The goal of the program is to level the playing field with technology, so that every student has access to good technology coming into college. That’s really remarkable.”

The first group of Digital Flagship Educators have completed two sessions over four days, and the learning process will continue before the start of autumn semester. About 78 instructors went through the initial Digital Flagship Educators program. Instructors in the cohort will have one course section designated as “iPad required” by the registrar.Melissa Beers

Beers worked with a team of psychology faculty that included two graduate students, an honors instructor and two faculty members from the regional campuses through the training.Bradley Okdie, associate professor of psychology at the Newark campus, said the training was well thought out and helpful. He said it also prepared instructors as they plan their classes for the fall.

“There is the one thing I think it did really well, that was telling us where we need to go if things were not going the way that we planned either in terms of in the classroom or in terms of the device management itself,” Okdie said. “But I think, more than anything, the training provided us a foundation for understanding what the iPad can be in the classroom and how it fits in with the pedagogy that we may already be teaching.”

Okdie said one of the apps preloaded on the iPad offers some interesting possibilities for his classes. He said students often struggle with the biology section in the psychology course work. He uses a slideshow to teach brain function and how neurons communicate, but he plans to change that approach.

“I can use an app called Explain Everything, which is essentially a digital whiteboard. So students can use the iPad pencil to draw and to produce audio and it’s all recorded,” he said. “So what I would ask them to do is to simply sketch a neuron along with its core components that they would have to learn for the class.”

That creative investment will likely lead to better learning on the part of his students.

“I think No. 1, they will find that entertaining. They’ll be motivated to engage in that activity. But No. 2, because it’s something that they are creating, because they’re going to spend some time on it, essentially they’ll learn more,” Okdie said.

Andre Plate, a graduate student in clinical psychology, has been an instructor for the introduction to psychology class for three years. He said the Digital Flagship sessions helped him think about how he’ll bring technology into the lecture hall that better resembles how students are using technology in the real world.

“Let’s try to teach this class where students can utilize this technology as a resource and in a way that is applicable and actually reflective of how they learn things outside their classroom as well,” Plate said.

Beers said it’s important to remember teaching comes first.

“We have to think about what do we want students to learn and accomplish and then how can technology help us to do that? That always has to be, with teaching and learning, the No. 1 priority,” she said. “This isn’t about teaching with iPads. It’s about teaching, and then there’s my iPad.”

Beers said the learning process for faculty will also lead to scholarly research. She is already planning a comparative study of the iPad-enhanced classes.

“I want to be clear. I want to be thoughtful about it. And I want to be careful about it, too,” she said. “That’s why early on in these discussions we said let’s think about designing a study, getting [Institutional Review Board] approval. And while we’re engaged in this work, we are also learning something that we can share with the broader community of scholars so that we can really share and report back and can learn from our example.”

One theme that emerged among the psychology team in the first round of training: This is just the beginning.

“I think we are on the cusp of something great here,” Okdie said. “Maybe that’s me being optimistic but I think, to the extent that we can get faculty and students to engage with this technology in the way that they should, to increase learning, I think this is a big deal. But’s going to require that both faculty and students work together to make this happen.”