UNR pilot program could look to universal iPads to fill tech void

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Move-in day at the University of Nevada, Reno, August 12, 2021. Photo: David Calvert / The Nevada Independent


In the depths of the virtual learning environment of the pandemic era of the 2020 academic year, the digital divide that has long smoldered for thousands of Nevada students has snowballed, as those who did not have no certain technological tools began to feel the pressure.

Pamela Sandstrom, associate professor of biology at UNR, said that in person before the times, in a sea of ​​hundreds of faces, it was difficult to assess which students had access to which tools. But forced online, in Zoom rooms and asynchronous classrooms, the disparity has become not only obvious, but inevitable.


“I would have people who weren’t able to complete the missions,” Sandstrom said. “And they would explain to me that you know, that they had three siblings, and that they’re back home with their parents now in California, or Nevada, or wherever – but they don’t have enough. devices so that everyone is working at the same time.


Since then, a possible solution has emerged at UNR – a new push to not only suggest or recommend certain class-leading technologies, but make them ubiquitous by design.


Dubbed the “Digital Wolf Pack Initiative,” UNR in May announced a formal partnership with Apple that would put an iPad in the hands of every freshman coming in this fall in the name of tech equity and digital literacy.


Acting UNR provost Jeff Thompson said the two sides of the partnership created a level playing field in technology such as “[students] all have the same device on the same platform ”, in addition to learning how to get the most out of modern hardware like the new tablets.


“I think this is going to be transformative for all of our students,” said Thompson. “Digital literacy is going to give them an edge when they enter the workforce or wherever they go after college. They will have skills that other students with the same degree will not have.


These skills, according to Thompson and other professors, go beyond simple tablet functionality such as note taking and e-readers, to more advanced video, photography or design applications, and ultimately , expanded access to a “coding academy” according to Thompson. would provide “firsthand knowledge” of how applications are developed and used.


But even at a basic level, faculty said digital literacy emerged as one of many technological challenges made worse or more apparent by the pandemic, as knowledge of how to tackle seemingly simple tasks was spread. unevenly among students.


“The university has loaned a number of laptops to students to help fill some of these digital access gaps,” said Sarah Cummings, chemistry professor at UNR. “[And] it was something that became evident not only in the devices, but also in the access to WiFi with a good connection… Even simple things like a page that does not load in their course page in the management system of learning have become a real challenge.


This year, those iPads came free to incoming freshmen as part of a $ 4 million pilot program to see if the program – already in use at some other institutions across the country – could be replicated in Nevada at the aftermath of the pandemic. .


“Part of that was also down to how quickly we wanted to get this up and running,” said Thompson. “One of the lessons we’ve learned in the first year and a half of the pandemic is that our students don’t have access to the platforms that many of our professors expect when teaching distance education.”


Even though the freshmen of this year’s test subject received their iPad for free, future students won’t be so lucky.


Thompson said he expects new cohorts of students to pay for their own iPads throughout their studies, essentially spreading the cost of the tablet, an iPad Air, and the stylus and keyboard that accompany it – a combined cost of nearly $ 830, even under Apple’s promotional discount on “educational rates” – over four to six years. Students should probably get these iPads as well, Thompson said, following similar models at Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky.


And while the iPads will remain the property of the university for the duration of a student’s tenure at UNR, the ownership of these tablets will ultimately pass to the students once they graduate – and the iPad is fully paid. If the students drop out before this date, the tablet remains the property of the university.


Thompson compared the extra cost to being no different than paying for the course’s technology fee or “even having to buy textbooks.”


“[The iPad] will be part of our educational process, ”he said. “This will be used regularly in their lessons, it will be part of how we advise students, it will be how our learning management system will work – everything will be on. [one] device.”


Many freshmen have said that the free iPads have so far been a positive part of their college experience.


“I am not bringing any other technology [to class] except the iPad. I don’t bring a laptop or anything, ”said Emily Kuzanek, a Reno freshman. “I am a big fan.”


Yet if the program is extended, it is poised to become another cost of a college education that has only gotten more expensive over time. With those costs came a lingering resentment among some students – including many sophomores and other upper-class students who struggled through a year of pandemic learning – that they had now missed out on the free iPads by. pure random.


“I think that money could have been spent on anything that could have helped each student,” said Abby Olsen, a junior from Reno. “Mental health has become a huge issue with COVID. Or services like rent – we still pay rent and some of us have lost our jobs. “


She and many of her peers said that they invested time and money in their university experience at UNR and that their commitment should have been more valued when adopting the pilot program.


In addition to cost issues, there is a more practical pitfall. With Apple devices comes an Apple ecosystem – and all the quirks that come with those brand-based ties.


“Apple is so exclusive with the other technology you’re trying to pair it with,” said Mady Samuels, a junior from Las Vegas. “And when all the technology on campus is Microsoft-based, you can’t tie things together. “


Inside the classroom, professors who already use iPads say the technology has been a godsend, replacing old technologies like projection systems with apps and screen sharing.


Sandstrom, a biology professor at UNR, said the new tablet is already an integral part of its own classroom workflow, a streamlined platform where real-time drawings of glucose and triglyceride structures coexist with Shareable lecture notes and pop quizzes.


And although she mainly teaches sophomores and juniors without iPads, Sandstrom said the universality of the new tablets – if that day came – not only to close equity gaps, but to streamline parts of it. classroom experience and completely eliminate some hassle.


“I think things are getting a lot easier,” Sandstrom said. “I saw a girl yesterday, and … she’s carrying around my genetics textbook and another big one.” [organic chemistry] book – it’s the good old days.


Even so, the technology is just one tool in a larger toolbox, according to Sarah Cummings, a chemistry professor at UNR who has taught intro-level science classes filled with freshmen on iPad. She said technology would not improve the learning experience without “educational goals.”


“There are a lot of features in the iPad that make it really interesting, and [give it] lots of possible and potential applications in the classroom setting, ”Cummings said. “But again, it’s a tool. Basically you have to have a feel for what you are trying to do.


Jacob Solis is a reporter for The Nevada Independent, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit news organization. Zachary Bright is an intern. This
the story was first published on September 15th and is republished here with permission. For more information on Nevada, visit The Nevada Independent.


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