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Students Thrive as Digital Initiative Sparks Innovative Culture at OU

NORMAN - OU’s founder set a precedent for innovation when he looked at the empty prairie that would become the University of Oklahoma and said, “Oh what possibilities.” Seizing new opportunities continues to be a fiber of the institution as faculty and staff strive to transform and improve the student experience through innovations in technology and digital assets. The One University digital initiative started in 2012 as a few defined projects. Now, five years later, it has evolved into an organic mindset, sparking a cultural shift on campus. This new culture is quick to leverage technology to enhance scholarship, make tools and resources available to students, and create spaces where Sooners can experiment, collaborate, and create.

“One University is an exemplary collaborative initiative, impacting and permeating the university as a whole. From research and academics to IT and student experience, leadership is setting a new standard for reimagining and improving student solutions,” says Nick Hathaway, Executive Vice President and the visionary behind One University. “Our goal is to create new student experiences with technology, web resources, and digital assets that rival any user experience available today – inside higher education our out.” 

In the five years that the initiative has existed on campus, students have thrived. Graduation rates have increased. Retention has increased, and this year’s graduating class had the highest academic standing in the history of Oklahoma. “The One University digital initiative has lead transformative change at OU through technology and prioritized student success as the driving force. By saving students money, creating better user experiences, and enabling growth opportunities, we're seeing direct and lasting impacts of One University,” said Erin Yarbrough, Associate Vice President for Web Communications, Marketing & New Media.

While it’s impossible to attribute all this success to the digital initiative alone, technological innovations across campus have played an important role in helping students succeed.

“We help advisors become better advisors. We give students technology to use. We help with reducing costs as much as we can,” said Glenn Hansen, Director of the Office of Business Analytics. “There are too many variables, but surely technology plays a huge role in student success—be it the technology we use to better understand our students, making sure we’re giving them the services they need and want, or the technology we give them to use,” said Hansen.

Since its creation, the One University digital initiative has revolutionized the student experience through a series of digital tools. Departments developed new web resources and apps for students like Scholarship Genius, OU Bound, the Financial Success Plan, OU On Demand, and more.

These tools help students do everything from finding scholarships to finding parking spaces. Scholarship Genius, for example, is a modern web experience that allows students to see their scholarship reward potential in less than a minute. The online tool averages around 1,000 users a week, encourages students to apply for scholarships, provides opportunities for them to ask questions, and helps the office of Financial Aid conduct outreach.

Apps like OU Bound help prospective students complete each step that walks them through the timeline as they become a new Sooner. OU Innovate is the kickstarter for new technology that makes students’ lives easier, and OU On Demand is the first university Apple TV app in the world, combining all of OU’s video series and live streams in one platform for parents and alumni to stay connected to campus.

This cultural shift has inspired faculty to rethink course materials, subsequently lowering textbook costs and increasing access to educational content. With Emerging Technologies Librarians on staff, OU Libraries has helped professors and students transition and utilize ebooks and other alternative textbooks. “Having open educational resources librarians is a model that other institutions are starting to adopt. We were seen as one of the first schools to make that a priority,” said Mark Morvant, Executive Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. Grants for alternative textbooks, like ebooks, original online content, and open educational resources have saved OU students $528 in textbook costs per semester on average.

This transition is not only saving students money, but it is empowering faculty to reinvent course materials. OU’s interactive learning community, Janux, provides high-quality and interactive courses that bring the power of social networks to an educational space. A new resource, Create, offers students and faculty the opportunity to build a digital presence, create online portfolios, educational content, and more.

Academic programs have spearheaded digital efforts in their programs. Both the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education and College of Law provide iPads to all of their students. The College-wide scale of these projects fosters collaboration and aids instructional innovation. Even the Pride of Oklahoma has utilized iPads, cutting the time in takes to learn transformations on the field in half.

The University of Oklahoma College of Law was the first law school in the country to launch a college-wide digital initiative, designed to prepare students for success in the digital world by provide technology training and building digital-friendly spaces. The Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education has been an Apple Distinguished program since 2013 and the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication has been an Apple Distinguished Program since 2011.

The scope of the initiative has even influenced physical spaces on campus. Technology hubs like the One U Store, the Innovation Hub, and more bring the digital initiative to the haptic world. These unique spaces not only introduce students to the latest technology, but also provide training, interdisciplinary collaboration, and opportunities for mentorship with industry professionals. A handful of startups have created prototypes using the Innovation Hub’s Fabrication Lab. Being an intellectual property neutral space, students can make entrepreneurial dreams a reality.  

Together, the academic initiatives, digital tools, and technology playgrounds have contributed to student success. No longer dependent on defined projects, OU now has a culture that considers how technological innovations can improve students’ lives. As a result, students have flourished and campus as a whole is empowered to partner with the University in order to continue innovating and exploring new possibilities.