The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has launched a college-wide digital learning initiative to support educational innovation for students. Beginning this fall the Lion Launch Pad program will equip all entering freshmen in the College of STEM, including students in the School of Education, with an iPad to enhance their abilities to learn, share and excel academically.
“Lion Launch Pad will allow our students to participate in engaging, vibrant educational experiences inside and out of the classroom and laboratory,” said Dr. Ron Darbeau, dean of the College of STEM. “Our hope is that this program will allow all students to develop modern mobile skills that will enhance their learning and allow them to excel in an increasingly competitive workplace.”
While it focuses primarily on teaching and learning, the initiative will extend into the arena of research and creativity as well as enabling students to code with Swift, Apple’s easy-to-learn programming language.
In coordination with Cengage Unlimited, students will also have electronic access to the entire menu of Cengage textbooks used by their faculty for one low annual cost, resulting in a significant reduction in the annual expense of purchasing individual textbooks and therefore the expense of attending college, a mission in keeping with the UAFS Promise Program, also slated to begin this fall.
Students will use their iPads to create live documents, take notes, record lectures, live share course materials with faculty and peers via AirDrop, access and annotate faculty presentations, and access their course materials and resources.
“The connectivity, collaboration and technological advantages our students will receive through this program are directly aligned with our mission to prepare students to succeed in this rapidly changing world,” said Dr. Edward Serna, UAFS interim chancellor. “The College of STEM has done impressive work pioneering this innovative program, and we hope their success will enable us to expand the iPad initiative across the institution in the coming years.”
Beyond the advantages for student collaboration, the Lion Launch Pad program will also allow UAFS instructors to innovate classroom functionality. In “flipped” courses students may watch lectures and complete assignments online, transforming the classroom into a platform for dialogue and collaborative problem-solving. In biology and geosciences courses, the iPad will function as a camera and field notebook to document plant and animal life, rocks and geological formations and also serve students as an instructional aid and supplementary text.
“The iPad allows me to move around the room and engage with all of my students more effectively during instruction,” explained UAFS Assistant Professor Jennifer Adams, who has utilized her iPad-enabled classroom to create video study guides, improved documents, and supplemental instruction and to ease the technological stresses during student presentations.
“The iPad is like a personal flash drive that has everything on it,” added Natalie Brewer, a UAFS student who uses the technology in her Number Sense class. “The thing I like most is that the professor can directly write on a slideshow. This is very helpful in math especially because it is easy to work out problems and show examples. The slideshow can then be sent out, with all of the markings made during class, to each individual student to look back on. … Especially now it is easier for each new generation to learn with the use of technology. Instead of writing everything down on paper, most of us are accustomed to using some sort of technology to learn.”
UAFS Instructor Robbin Stockton also noted her ability to engage instantly with students who have questions, allowing her to support their learning even after hours.
“Students can message me instantly [using the Remind app] with questions including a picture to support their message. I then, in turn, mark up the photo with the help they need and send it right back to them. It has really helped students in my Number Sense class feel connected and like they have the support they need to be successful in class.”
The landmark program will also give UAFS students access to the breadth of learning tools available on an iPad, including more than 200,000 education apps available in the App Store and Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum through CS 1093, which teaches critical iOS-based coding skills to enhance career readiness and literacy in the app economy, one of the world’s fastest-growing employment sectors.
The iOS app economy has created more than 1.6 million jobs in the United States and generated $5 billion in revenue for American app developers in 2017. With demand for coding skills stronger than ever, today there are more than 500,000 unfilled programming-related positions across the country, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million more software development jobs than applicants qualified to fill them.
Entering students will be assessed a technology fee to cover the cost of the iPad, which may be covered through financial aid or scholarships.