Jonathan Brown knows firsthand how access to technology can make or break a student’s life.
Brown, a 19-year-old from Cincinnati specializing in political science and media production, said he was lucky to have a new laptop for his first year at Capital University. Not everyone, he says, has been so lucky.
He has classmates bustling around bulky old laptops on campus. He’s seen people without their own laptops frantically running around the library the night before a big project to find an open computer. And he has friends who have typed 12-page papers on the tiny keys of their smartphones.
Technology, Brown said, can level the playing field between students who have resources and those who don’t. That’s one of the reasons he’s so excited that Capital is planning to give every member of their college community their own iPad this summer.
Realize that not all students have personal computers
Project Indigo, Capital’s new digital initiative, will provide an iPad to all 2,600 students, staff and faculty at the university.
The iPads will be distributed to everyone over several days in July. Professors and some student leaders, such as Brown, have already received their iPads to get used to the new technology and integrate them into freshman classes and orientation sessions.
âWhen I heard we all get iPads, I thought they were kidding,â Brown said.
But now, with his new iPad in hand, Brown is already helping to create a new student e-book called “Cap101” for incoming students.
The initiative goes beyond simply providing technology to students, said Jody Fournier, rector and vice president of learning at Capital. It’s about improving student success, campus connections, education and equity.
âWe assume that all students have smartphones and laptops,â Fournier said. “But if they can’t afford food, how can they afford a laptop?”
Fournier said Project Indigo is the last piece of a much bigger puzzle that has been in place at Capital for more than a decade.
Access to technology, an issue of equity in education
A long-standing philosophy in higher education was that if you wanted more successful students in your school, you just needed to recruit better-performing students, he said.
However, the strategy ignored the school’s responsibility to help students, especially first-generation students, succeed in and out of the classroom.
Capital University was one of those schools, Fournier said.
âAround 2009, there was this mentality of ‘Look left and right, one of you won’t be here next year,’â Fournier said. “The prevailing idea was that preparing students for college success was happening elsewhere, and maybe not everyone is cut out for college.”
But this strategy has not yielded great results, especially among first-generation students, Fournier said.
In 2009, the retention rate for students in first to second year was only 71%, a number Fournier called “just terrible.”
Capital missed an opportunity to build student achievement and engagement, said Fournier, who was himself a first-generation student. So the university embarked on a mission to rethink how it could best help students succeed.
With help from the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, a North Carolina-based nonprofit group that works with schools to improve teaching, learning and retention outcomes, Capital has discovered dozens of changes it could make.
It merged its student affairs and academic affairs offices to create a one-stop-shop for students. He stopped suspending students for falling behind in class and created loopback services to get students back on track, among other things.
Then, in 2017, Capital created several systems that allow students to virtually obtain information about the university. But that doesn’t help students without computers and other digital technologies, Fournier said.
The Indigo project would be the answer to this problem.
Donations, federal pandemic aid funds Capital’s Indigo project
Where some schools provide devices for students for a semester or two and then expect them to be returned, Project Indigo is different. Fournier said everyone at Capital – from freshmen to graduate students and full professors to gardeners – will receive their own iPads. These devices would eliminate the divisions caused by a lack of access to technology.
Capital began fundraising when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, highlighting how crucial it is for everyone to have equal access to technology. Fournier said the effort costs around $ 3.5 million, funded by donations, returns on investment and federal pandemic assistance to universities. Students can buy their iPads at college when they graduate for $ 1.
Fournier said he wanted Project Indigo to take Capital to the next level in terms of student success.
It’s not just about using iPads in a few classes, he said. This means that students don’t have to buy expensive technology just to go to college. It’s about connecting students across campus with their peers and faculty. It is about leveling the rules of the game and ensuring that every student in the Capital has the capacity to succeed.
âThe mission really comes to life in these devices,â Fournier said. “It is more than the lives of these students that are transformed, but also their families and communities.”
Brown said he expects some people to scoff at the idea of ââgiving everyone iPads to increase student achievement. But why would anyone rule out a university that is doing everything it can to help its students succeed? He asked.
âIf our school decides to improve education and increase the chances of success for every student, what is the problem? ” he said. “Is that the goal of a campus: to provide the best four-year experience for its students? I think so.”