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Fresno State Intros Tablet Program with Device Grants for Students

Today California State University, Fresno is introducing a new tablet program as classes begin. The first wave of "DISCOVERe" will encompass 1,200 students, 33 faculty members and about 40 course sections. By next school year the university anticipates 5,000 students and 150 faculty.

Each student enrolled in one of the tablet-only courses may receive a $500 grant from the Fresno State Foundation towards the purchase of the device from the campus bookstore. Those include an iPad Air running iOS, already chosen by 61 percent of students, and an Asus Memo Pad running Android, chosen by 34 percent. Students can also use their own tablets (including Windows 8 tablets) as long as they meet minimum specifications:

  • 9.5-inch display;
  • 1,024 x 768 resolution;
  • A 1 GHz processor;
  • 1 GB of RAM;
  • At least 32 Gb of storage capacity;
  • A front-facing Web camera;
  • 802.11n wireless; and
  • Ports for adding a mechanical keyboard and headphones.

In the case of the Asus, the entire cost is expected to be covered by the grant. Each tablet bought through the program will also include a year of AT&T 4G to enable students to connect to the Internet when they're off campus.

To develop faculty participation, instructors volunteered and they were nominated by deans from all campus divisions. During the summer the initial cohort went through development and training activities to redesign their curriculum to be more interactive and collaborative.

As part of the program some faculty are also replacing the use of traditional printed curriculum with digital materials and apps, although that isn't a requirement. As an FAQ explains, "Not all classes will have 'e-textbooks.'" The bookstore will have digital textbooks available if the instructor has requested it and the publisher can provide it.

Other aspects of the campus are also jumping onto the tablet initiative. For example, advisors have received iPads outfitted with videoconferencing software to enable them to meet with off-campus students during normal campus hours.

The university has trained 20 student "guides" who will work in the library providing customer service, technical support and app help to students and faculty.

The launch of the tablet-only course direction was an initiative sparked with the arrival of a new president, Joseph Castro, who arrived on campus last year after long posts at the University of California San Francisco and other campuses within the UC system.

Castro's vision is to make technology more accessible to students while also bringing down the cost of attending Fresno State. The central valley where the university is set is populated with school districts that are introducing their K-12 students to computing devices through 1-to-1 programs, such as Fresno Unified and Lindsay Unified.

"This marks the beginning of a journey that is bold, innovative and laser-focused on student success," Castro said. "As more courses get redesigned to incorporate technology, our goal is to build a sustainable program that keeps the cost of attending Fresno State affordable while increasing graduation rates."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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