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University’s Digital Learning Initiative Focuses on Universal Access

Arkansas’ University of the Ozarks is behind a push to give students access to the tools and technologies they need to succeed.

(TNS) — The University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark., has collaborated with Apple to distribute nearly 1,000 Apple iPad devices, Apple pencils and smart keyboards to its students and faculty, according to a recent news release.

Most of the students, including almost 300 incoming freshmen, received their iPads just before classes began for the fall semester. A majority of the faculty, as well as about 70 students, received their iPads in the spring, during the first phase of the program rollout.

The initiative, called Compass, is a comprehensive student-success program that will provide universal access to a common set of learning technologies, according to the UofO.

"We believe Compass will transform the teaching and learning experience at Ozarks by creating a dynamic and integrated environment of innovation, creativity and discovery," University President Richard Dunsworth says in the release. "Students will be able to access content in a way that supports their personal learning style, and it will increase accessibility for all of our students."

The iPad devices will be used by the about 880 full-time students and 100 faculty and staff, including adjunct faculty, administrators and athletic coaches. The university has invested $1.3 million in the Compass initiative, which includes training seminars, equipment such as Wi-Fi-connected Apple TVs in classrooms and an enhanced wireless infrastructure for greater bandwidths and faster internet speeds.

The current students will not incur additional costs to participate in the Compass program, and officials believe that future costs of the technology will be more than offset by decreasing the amount students pay for traditional textbooks and other materials.

"This is especially important as the university seeks to control, and in some cases decrease, the cost of attendance while also improving the educational experience," Dunsworth says.

Students will be eligible to keep the iPads if they complete six semesters at UofO. Upper class students who will graduate before the six-semester limit will have the option to purchase the iPads at a reduced cost.

Alyson Gill, provost at the university whose office coordinated the development and implementation of the program, said Compass promotes an active learning environment in which students and faculty engage with the material and each other both inside and outside the classroom.

"Compass will be a key driver as we support this pedagogical practice in which we move towards a student-centered learning model where students are actively involved in creating content for their courses and engaging with each other and their curriculum," Gill said.

Caleb J. Keith, assistant provost for institutional effectiveness and strategic priorities, said Compass ties into the university's mission and core values.

"Compass seeks to create equity for students at University of the Ozarks by providing all learners with technology in the classroom," Keith said. "This essentially evens the playing field for all learners, meaning everyone starts the race from the same starting line."

Amy Oatis, associate professor of English and a member of the Compass steering committee, was one of the professors who used the iPad in the spring — for her academic writing course. She said faculty members are extremely excited about this program.

"I saw students' engagement and creativity increase through the use of the iPad that I didn't see in my other classes that didn't have the devices," Oatis said.

Oatis said she was particularly surprised about how Compass has fostered and promoted collaboration between students.

"Everyone having the same equipment really facilitated peer sharing and collaboration," Oatis said. "There was a lot of spontaneous collaboration between the students as well as between the students and faculty that was surprising. It actually enhanced communications and teamwork because it is so easy to share files and projects or just comments."

Officials said there will be several training and workshop opportunities for faculty and staff throughout the school year, including a weekly noon event at the on-campus coffee shop that Oatis coordinates called Appy Hour.

"We wanted a place where students, faculty and staff could come together and share stories, best practices or their favorite educational apps," Oatis said. "We started Appy Hour in the spring, and it was really well-received by the entire campus community. I love how students and faculty who might not normally encounter each other are able to collaborate. Everyone is excited about the opportunities and possibilities that are out there. They really are limitless."

©2018 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.