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Digital First closes Ohio State labs, rewires campus

The Digital First Initiative was implemented at Ohio State about a year ago, and the program that awards iPads to athletes and updates campus technology has continued to grow this school year. The program has been used to update campus computer labs and rewire 354 classrooms for $5,000 each with money that has been cut from other parts of academic life, including wages for some student jobs.
Michael Hofherr, the senior director of OSU learning technology said In order to keep OSU up-to-date in the digital world, major changes had to be made.
“The tagline for Digital First is enriching teaching, learning and research. And that means a lot of things. And most importantly though, it means how are we enhancing our teaching and learning to make an exceptional student learning experience,” Hofherr said.
OSU has 354 general-purpose classrooms that all need to be rewired to accommodate increased wireless Internet use and to allow teachers to digitally present lectures. All of these changes, however, cost money. Hofherr said that the majority of the associated costs are repurposed internal funds that were originally intended to be allocatted elsewhere.
“We’ve stopped doing (other) things to do things more effectively to pay for this stuff,” Hofherr said.
Shutting down three computer labs on campus has saved money, bringing the number of labs down to six from nine.  
The computers at OSU are on a four-to-five year refresh cycle. This means the entire labs get redone, and improvements are made to the computers, desks, chairs and lights. This refresh cycle has been ongoing since the university has had computers, Hofherr said.
Hofherr said the university saves about $110,000 a year in student wages alone by closing some of the labs that are open 24/7.
Saving money in other areas has allowed for 354 campus classrooms to be budgeted for rewiring, which Hofherr said costs about $5,000 per classroom to change from analog to digital wiring.
“We have wiring that goes from our podiums to our projectors and then wiring from the classrooms that go to, you know, a closet in the building that controls the Internet,” Hofherr said.
Hofherr said the nearly $1.8 million it will take to upgrade the classrooms over the next two years will come partly from the refurbished funds but also from a one-time budget request.
Some OSU Students said going digital is an asset but one that could come with complications.
Alexandra Wallace, a fourth-year in strategic communications, said going digital would yield an “opportunity to improve” education.
“Technology has made our lives so much more advanced,” Wallace said. “It can also make us more disconnected.”
Matt Murtha, a second-year in exploration, said implementing more technology into classrooms could “speed up the learning process.”
“I think it would be beneficial,” he said.
The OSU Athletics Department and the College of Medicine also have implemented technology into their budgets.
All of the athletes at OSU will soon be in possession of an iPad, made possible by a decision made last year to re-allocate funding.
David Graham, the assistant provost and associate athletics director for student-athlete success at OSU, said the athletic department re-allocated funds in ts regular operational budget to make a technology fund to help sustain the digital initiative. The cost for every athlete to receive an iPad is about $500,000, Graham said.
But in May, the Graham told The Lantern the department had budgeted $400,000 for iPads.
Graham said the purpose behind the iPads for student-athletes is to “enhance time management and academic skills.”
Although the football team was among the first to receive them, by this time next year, all of the student-athletes will have iPads that will be distributed on a rolling basis.
In September, OSU held an auction at the Schottenstein Center that raised $450,000 for the Digital First program. Items auctioned off included a 24-person dinner party at the 50-yard line in Ohio Stadium with OSU athletic director Gene Smith, football coach Urban Meyer and men’s basketball coach Thad Matta and an opportunity to travel with the men’s basketball team to its away game versus Duke.
The College of Medicine has been providing its students with technology to aid in classroom and clinical learning for about 10 years, said Daniel Clinchot, the College of Medicine’s vice dean for education.
The evolution started with the iPod Touch, and later as more students became interested in the iPhone, they were given a choice between the two devices.
Unlike other departments, the College of Medicine requires its students to pay a $75 technology fee at the beginning of the year and another $150 fee at the end of the year for upgrades. It is this technology fee that makes it possible to give every student an iPhone or iPod, Clinchot said.
If students choose to get the iPhone, their fee is reimbursed to be used for the cost of the phone and toward the cell phone plan, which has to come out of the student’s pocket. Otherwise, the school would provide the iPod Touch, if they chose that option, without a fee reimbursement.
By requiring their students to have technology such as the iPhone on hand, it allows them to provide information “at the patient’s bedside,” Clinchot said.
The College of Medicine also requires its students to have a laptop that can run an IOS operating system. All of their exams and much of their educational material is made available through this operating system.
“We spent a fair amount of time developing applications,” Clinchot said.
These applications include one called “Direct Observation,” which allows students to input patients’ diagnosis. This does not include information protected under the privacy of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Clinchot said, just the different illnesses and diagnosis the students have been able to observe.
This year, the College of Medicine ran a pilot test to see if iPads would be a better option for its students. This fall, students were chosen at random to test whether the iPad is more or less beneficial for their education and clinical environment.
Clinchot said they will know by spring if the iPad will take over for the iPod/
iPhone option.
If they choose the iPad, it will alleviate the necessity to have a laptop. The school will provide the iPad, made possible with the technology fee, or a student can get another type of device and have their fee reimbursed, Clinchot said.
Although it seems that many students are receiving new technology devices through the Digital First platform, don’t expect the general undergraduate classes at OSU to be a part of the distribution.
“We explored that for a little while, you know, what would it cost to give every student at Ohio State an iPad and it’s really expensive,” Hofherr said. “So I think it’s out of the realm of feasibility.”
But Hofherr said soon, most students will already have the technology they’re providing.
“We’ve seen this massive growth of mobile devices … there’s gonna be a point where this is just what students have,” Hofherr said.

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