First-year students in the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) began their first year as Lions with high-tech alternatives to textbooks and No. 2 pencils. Thanks to the Lion Launch Pad initiative, 285 STEM students received a brand-new iPad Wednesday as part of a comprehensive rollout of the newly integrated devices.

As students eagerly worked through lines at the Baldor Technology Center, enthusiasm radiated. One student said it felt like Christmas in August, while another marveled that they had never before touched an iPad and now had one of their own.

Each iPad was pre-assigned by serial number to its respective student who, upon picking it up, continued through a series of instructional stations designed to make implementation seamless.

Experts from Apple and UAFS Technology Services were on hand to assist students with device setup and management and workflow navigation to ensure students can begin using their iPads immediately and effectively.

“They made it super easy for us to set up, and I’m really glad they were able to offer us this user-friendly experience,” said Sarah Schneider, a mathematics with teacher licensure major.

Ryan Lee, a systems analyst with UAFS Technology Services, assisted students as they enrolled in the university’s mobile device management system. “The system allows us to share resources with students, including enterprise apps purchased by the university for student use, and it enables us to manage and protect the iPad if it ever becomes lost,” said Lee.

While Apple and university technology staff will continue to assist the university with iPad needs, three student workers will serve as the frontline of support through the Lion Bytes program.

Elizabeth Wilson, a junior information technology major, said the opportunity to participate in a service position would help her as she enters the workforce.

“Helping others will help me in my career,” she said, “and I know in the IT field I’ll have to work my way up, so the opportunity to provide support on the Apple devices will be great experience.”

The STEM-wide rollout aims to equip all students with digital learning opportunities that will support educational innovation, engage them in active learning processes and prepare them for the increasingly technical workforce.

“Our students are now able 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.”

“UAFS has a noble legacy of providing ladders of opportunity for students in the River Valley and beyond – many of whom are from low-income families where access to the internet and especially to digital devices may not be common,” said Darbeau. “Ensuring meaningful digital connectivity is critical to levelling the playing field with respect to learning opportunities and acquisition of modern skills at this inflexion point in human history. The Lion Launchpad, then, at its heart is about digital equity for our students.”

Students who do not have reliable internet access will be able to check out wireless hotspot devices from the Boreham Library at UAFS, allowing them to have WiFi on the go.

“The iPad-integrated classrooms offer another way I can get close to my professors, and this technology makes so many things easier,” Schneider said. “I have online quizzes for my statistics classes that can be graded instantly, and as technology advances these processes become more efficient for everyone. The iPad makes my classes more accessible, I can set digital reminders and it keeps me accountable as well.”

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. According to Cengage, the Cengage Unlimited service saved students more than $60 million during the 2018-19 academic year.

Students will be able to use their iPads to create live documents within their course texts, take class notes, record lectures, live-share course materials with faculty and peers via AirDrop, annotate faculty presentations, and access their course materials and resources.

“I’m taking five classes,” explained freshman information technology major Garrett Whitlock, “and four of them have homework exclusively online. Something portable and practical will benefit me in getting homework done quickly and more efficiently.”

“I plan to take notes, study and review,” Whitlock added. “It’s easy to get lost when your notes are on paper. With the iPad you can highlight the text directly and make notes if something is important, and I think I’m going to be using that feature a lot.”

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 geoscience 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, improve documents and supplemental instruction and ease the technological stresses during student presentations.

The Lion Launchpad initiative has been a joint effort reaching across several units on the campus including IT, Advising and the Office of P-20 Collaboration, explained Darbeau. “Kelly Vongnarath, Shanna Turney, Ryan Lee, and Linus Yu were critical to the success of this initiative,” he said.