The secret of any successful technology initiative is that it is not, in fact, a technology initiative–it is a student success initiative.

Spurred by students and parents who are increasingly focused on a return on educational investment, or success after graduation, colleges and universities are implementing initiatives intended to help students enter the workforce with the most up-to-date hard and soft skills possible.

The Ohio State University (OSU) is one such institution. OSU has launched a strategic digital learning initiative to help students learn technology and coding skills for academic success and career readiness.

The Digital Flagship Initiative gives students in-demand skills and meets students where they are in terms of technology use.

Part of that initiative is an iPad for each of the 11,000 first-year students at OSU’s Columbus and regional campuses, with a growing number of courses requiring the tablets.

But the iPads aren’t the focus. Instead, the program takes a three-pronged approach:

  • Student technology consisting of an immersive and engaging collection of shared tools, platforms, and learning experiences
  • Coding curriculum in the form of university-wide opportunities for students to learn coding and enhance career-readiness in an app-based economy
  • iOS Design Lab to help students, faculty, and staff explore app development from ideation to prototype to market

“We know our students are using technology, and all of us are expected to use technology in whatever career track we pursue,” says Liv Gjestvang, OSU’s associate vice president of learning technology in the Office of Distance Education and eLearning. “We’re thinking about how we integrate those devices in meaningful ways to advance learning … [and] about how we create equitable educational opportunities for students. A common device helps, but it also opens doors for faculty on the pedagogical side.”

OSU focuses on common technology tools, a coding curriculum, and app development to give students a well-rounded chance to improve academic and professional success.

“We have a really strong commitment to thinking about how we integrate devices and build a program that does make students’ lives better, not just in the classroom, but in more broad and meaningful ways,” says Gjestvang.

Students are often characterized as tech-savvy, but this doesn’t mean they know how to leverage technology for career advancement or skill building. Digital Flagship recognizes this and builds in ways for students to strengthen technology literacy.

“With this generation of students, there seems to be a mindset that they just know how to use technology really well,” says Cory Tressler, director of Learning Programs & Digital Flagship in the Office of Distance Education and eLearning. “They know how to use aspects of technology really well, but in academic and professional settings, we’re seeing that they aren’t super strong users of technology for collaboration, information literacy, financial literacy, and organization.”

OSU’s three-pronged approach helps students build both hard and soft skills and positions them for success after graduation.

Coding skills might not seem particularly helpful for students in degree programs that aren’t tech-heavy, but those skills are increasingly in demand across all career disciplines.

“When students go into their profession, it will open up opportunities for them in their career paths–we’re really helping our students at a high level when we can do that,” Tressler says, recalling a library science graduate who had trouble finding a job after graduation, but was hired full-time after completing a coding bootcamp.

“Our students are consuming a lot of content that relies on heavy coding–how do we help them have some sense of what’s behind that?” Gjestvang says.

Students also have access to OSU’s custom app, Ohio State Discovery, which offers enough resources and information to help keep students engaged and focused on their academics and wellness.

The app’s personalization will grow with future updates. Currently, its four tabs focus on events and services, course schedules and financial snapshots, student organizations and how to get involved, and an interactive degree-planning tool.

As OSU grows its digital content and planning, university leaders will focus on ways to make content more dynamic for academic colleges and departments, along with faculty and students.

“This is a way for us to deliver content right to where students are,” Gjestvang says. “It’s not about using technology to build relationships and experience college life through the app–it’s about how we can use technology to connect students to the experiences that are already out there for them to pursue.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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