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Ohio State trustees focus on innovations in education

From thousands of iPads to coding classes to virtual patients, bleeding-edge approaches to teaching and learning were on display last week at The Ohio State University Board of Trustees meetings.

Students, faculty and staff members presented success stories about some of the innovative ways education is evolving at Ohio State. Mike Hofherr, Ohio State’s vice president and chief information officer, led a presentation on the Digital Flagship program during the Academic Affairs and Student Life Committee meeting.

Hofherr said the university entered year two of an iPad distribution plan to put the devices in the hands of all first- and second-year students. More than 11,400 iPads were delivered in year one with 13,000 more deploying in the new academic year.

“This isn’t just about devices – it’s about preparing our students for the future,” Hofherr said.

Digital Flagship also includes Swift coding and app development courses to give students the knowledge they need to build a great app and code effectively. A Mobile Design Lab and support for developing university apps round out the program.

The program is seeing results.

Melissa Beers, program director for Introduction to Psychology, said the number of Digital Flagship instructors in the program went from two in autumn semester 2018 to 21 in spring semester 2019. Beers conducted a survey of more than 500 students and found:

  • 85 percent of students agreed it has improved their learning experience.
  • 76 percent said it helped them improve academic skills.
  • 72 percent said it helps them be more creative.

Beers said the survey found students were using the iPads for note taking, homework, answering questions in the classroom and other academic purposes.

“I think it’s encouraging that the top uses are all academic,” she said.

Added Hofherr, “Students coming to Ohio State in the future are going to expect this type of learning.”

Hofherr said the Digital Flagship program is creating one of the largest learning laboratories in higher education and that students and faculty will continue to see the benefits as more data is collected from the program.

“I’m excited that a land-grant university is on the leading edge here,” said Timothy Smucker, interim chair of the Board of Trustees.

Innovation in learning was a key theme all week. On Wednesday, the Wexner Medical Center Board members heard about the use of virtual reality in medical education.

One of the first things medical students learn is the essential skill of taking a patient history. The College of Medicine is transforming the way students learn this classic communication with the use of technology.

Medical faculty collaborated with the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design and the Department of Linguistics to create virtual standardized patients – avatar representations of human patients, controlled by artificial intelligence. These virtual patients offer consistent responses while simultaneously participating in a nuanced dialogue.

“The system gives students immediate feedback on how they did,” said Douglas Danforth, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and academic director of the first two years of the medical curriculum. “Students get to compare themselves against the gold standard.”

Danforth told the board that the college is developing a virtual reality patient and exam setting that will more fully immerse students into a simulated physician-patient interaction. Ohio State was also awarded a federal grant to conduct a virtual reality simulation of a mass casualty event. The system will record and assess participants’ performance.

President Michael V. Drake summed up the different approaches as the key to improving the student experience.

“Innovative learning begins with innovative teaching,” he said.