Southern Virginia University goes digital

By Emma Derr 

Southern Virginia University will fund its iPad program for a second year in hopes of making learning more efficient in and out of the classroom.  

The university launched a new technology initiative last fall, and gave every student and faculty member a 256 GB iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. The university also updated its Wi-Fi system and put Apple TV in every classroom.  

The university purchased the new technology for students and faculty with Apple’s education discount. The school spent $749 per iPad on each of its 928 students. Students keep the device when they graduate.  

“We are opening up soft skills for the job market by teaching students to use mobile devices for productive things,” said Jared Lee, an assistant professor of biology at SVU. “An employer in any industry will find these skills valuable and very marketable.”   

Professors and students say the iPads let professors experiment with teaching classes in new ways. 

Two weeks ago, SVU had its first “digital day.” Instead of having a snow day, SVU students digitally attended their classes. The professors could decide how they wanted to format their lessons. Some made podcasts, others gave online quizzes, and some classes even logged in to group Skype sessions.  

Although easy access to social media and email can be distracting in class, professors say the technology encourages peer editing and dynamic note-taking. The iPads also help give students access to technology they may not be able to afford, which brings the community together through a common device.  

SVU student Anna Evans says technology brings the student body together. Photo By Emma Derr

“The principle of the program is to provide the best technology for all of our students,” said Brett Garcia, SVU’s chief of staff. 

Many schools across the country, such as Maryville College in Tenn., are instituting iPad initiatives to build digital literacy.  

“Everyone is super excited to be connected to Apple,” SVU senior Anna Evans said. “It makes us feel like a very important school and prompts school spirit. Everyone gets excited about innovation.”  

Evans said the iPads make working together easier. Classmates can critique each other’s work and edit together more efficiently. Using Apple’s iCloud, students can also organize notes and access them on other devices. 

 Lee, the Biology professor, said he can airdrop readings and documents to his classes instantly and edit assignments up until the moment class starts, thanks to the new technology.  

“Students can share notes a lot easier,” Lee said. “They can take pictures of the actual models we use during labs and label specific parts on their iPads.”  

Instead of carrying around heavy textbooks and papers, students said they enjoyed going “paperless.”  

But a paperless classroom has its drawbacks.  

“I think it’s a double-edged sword because there are more distractions with social media and email,” Lee said.  

SVU has tried to minimize distractions by utilizing Apple’s Classroom application, which shows teachers which program each student is using during class.  

School officials said iPads minimize the cost of textbooks for students because eBooks are usually much less expensive. 

“There’s a social equity component of this initiative that we feel is important because there’s some students who can buy three, four, or five devices and then there are some students who cannot buy any technology,” said Brett Garcia, SVU’s chief of staff. “We are giving them the best technology, and it levels the playing field for all our students.” 

Because all students and faculty have access to the same tools, Evans said, they are able to share thoughts and collaborate on assignments.   

“There is much more streamlined communication,” she said. “Everyone can instantly be working together all on the same mediums.” 

SVU’s Career Planning Specialist Kelli Woodard said the Apple program is also helping prepare students for job applications and interviews.  

“I love the iPads for my office,” Woodward said. “When a student comes in with a resume and we’re looking at it and editing, we’re doing that on the same format. We can put it up on the screen, and send it right back to the student when we’re done.” 

Woodward is also in charge of the Knight App, which is an application that provides students with resources and memos about campus events. SVU students have been using it since January. 

SVU administrators said that one of their main goals this school year was improving internal communication.  

“With the Knight App, students are much happier with knowing what’s going on at school,” Evans said. “People are way more involved than before and more willing to participate in each other’s events.” 

Woodward agrees. “Because of the iPads and the rollout of this app, I just suddenly saw the students feeling this strong sense of community,” she said. “Everyone knows what’s going on and that creates more unity and a tighter-knit community.”