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Ohio State-Apple partnership: class distraction or technological edge? Professors weigh-in

Ohio State recently announced a collaboration with Apple that will put iPads in the hands of every incoming freshman beginning Autumn, 2018. Professors at Ohio State differ in their views on technology in the classroom, though. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Ohio State’s newly announced partnership with Apple might be the first of its kind, but some at the university are not buying into the hype.

Earlier this month, Ohio State announced its collaboration with Apple that, beginning in Autumn 2018, will provide incoming freshmen on all university campuses with a free 10.5-inch, 256GB iPad Pro.. It will also bring an iOS laboratory to campus in Spring 2018.

Professors at Ohio State differ about their views on technology in the classroom. Some professors, such as Jesse Fox, an associate professor of communication, have expressed skepticism on whether the partnership will really help students when electronics in class typically distract from learning.

“Show me the science,” Fox said. “Show me the scientific evidence that this does not interfere with learning. Show me the scientific evidence that this benefits learning. Show me the scientific evidence that students are actually coming out of this with the same amount of knowledge and processing. There is too much focus on ‘Oh they are more engaged! They enjoy it more.’ That’s good but not at the cost of not learning.”

Fox said the partnership sends a message to Ohio State faculty that iPads benefit education, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

“We have very, very little evidence that it actually helps,” Fox said. “In fact, most of the evidence points out that using devices in classroom is distracting and limits learning and understanding, and only fosters multitasking and less focus.”

Besides classroom benefits, Fox also sees an issue with locking students into Apple products.

“It forces students into a corporate compatibility,” Fox said. “If they are required to have these for classes then students are then required to use Apple products.”

Locking into Apple products might also affect student’s future career goals, Fox said, because students could lack experience with other products after using only Apple-specific applications.

We have to be clear that this is still very much a marketing tool for our students to start really getting used to using Apple products. While I think they are great tools, we are helping Apple market directly to our students. – Theodore Chao, assistant professor of mathematics education

Theodore Chao, an assistant professor in mathematics education, disagrees with Fox and thinks there are plenty of benefits to having iPads in the classroom.

“I think they are great tools,” Chao said. “It’s nice to have everyone on the same platform because there are a lot of things students learn from working with each other.”

The work for instructors and students becomes much smoother when everyone has the same interface, Chao said. He said the process of catering to many different devices will be nonexistent and collaboration is easier if everyone has an iPad.

Chao added technology-averse professors need not worry.

“I don’t think it is going to change that much,” Chao said. “We are forced always to sort of integrate technology. Whether it is through Carmen Canvas or whether it is through having to layout specific cellphone and tablet policies in our classroom. These are things we have to address.”

The way Chao sees it, professors need to adapt to the new technology, and if students are distracted or bored during a lecture, then the instructor is at fault.

“Personally, I think if your teaching is based upon lecture, and you are sitting in a lecture in which you are lecturing and delivering instruction to students while they passively take it then it’s your fault as an instructor for not understanding how learning actually happens,” Chao said. “There is so much research as to how ineffective lecture is as a mechanism for learning. It’s lazy. It’s lazy teaching.”

Though the impact of technology in the classroom, and how much of a distraction it really is, has long been debated, Chao said iPads are no more a distraction than laptops, cellphones and even doodling.

“We had these arguments in the middle schools 20 years ago with the advent of graphing calculators with students being able to program and code and create their own games,” Chao said. “It is silly, to be honest.”

Chao is excited about the distribution of iPads, but does agree with Fox on one point — students could be locked into buying Apple products, possibly for life.

“How many of our students are going to be locked into an Apple infrastructure … All because they are compatible with their iPad,” Chao said. “We have to be clear that this is still very much a marketing tool for our students to start really getting used to using Apple products. While I think they are great tools, we are helping Apple market directly to our students.”

One comment

  1. The biggest problem is that they are only giving the ipads to incoming students. What about the students that are already here particularly the freshman. If they change the way things are done to accommodate, then they will all have to buy the products. If not they will be at a disadvantage.

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