Colleges investing in tablets to help student athletes

Colleges investing in tablets to help student athletes

After pilot program with basketball teams, University of Akron hopes to give iPads to all 30,000 students in the future
Members of Akron's men's and women's basketball teams received iPads to keep them connected to classes while traveling.

With days spent on buses and planes, it’s easy for student athletes to fall behind in class. That’s why The University of Akron (Ohio) is giving them iPads.

Fully funded by donors, the program was piloted last year, with all members of the men’s and women’s basketball teams receiving tablets at a cost of $500 each. Along with improving academic performance, the tablets are meant to make it easier for coaches to communicate with players.

“We want to enhance—by using digital technology—the teaching and learning experience, and really the athletic experience,” says Akron CIO Jim Sage.

Not surprisingly, the athletes in the pilot program spent most of their time checking email, listening to music, watching videos, and playing games, Sage says.

And while they did get some schoolwork done, officials wanted to ensure that the iPads were equipped with better classwork-centered apps before deploying the program to other sports teams. Athletes will now be able to access the university’s LMS from their iPads and more easily write papers.

“Mens’ basketball and women’s basketball play 30 games in a year,” says Anne Jorgensen, associate athletic director for student-athlete academic services. “They can be on the road starting on a Thursday, not getting back until Sunday night or Monday morning. This gives them the opportunity to stay in tune with their classrooms, and it’s packable, transportable, and easier to transport than a laptop.”

There hasn’t yet been any backlash from the general student population about not getting iPads. But Sage hopes to give iPads to all 30,000 students in the future, he adds.

“The investment is going to be significant, so I’m going to have to provide the leadership team a quantified business case to deploy these devices,” he says.

One way he hopes to prove ROI is by comparing academic results before and after as one major of success.

The University of Maryland athletics department distributed iPads to its athletes in February. The tablets were purchased using the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund.