John Tolley, December 28, 2019

A sleek, black bus is prowling the highways and byways of the Buckeye State on a mission to ensure that Ohio State University students and faculty - and all Ohioans, in general - are prepared for our rapidly evolving technological landscape. The Mobile Design Lab is part of the university's Digital Flagship initiative, which aims to instill basic tenets of design and familiarity with coding languages in every student.

"We want to make sure our students leave with digital skills that are career-ready, but then also coding skills and design skills around app development that potentially could help down the road," explains Digital Flagship director Cory Tressler. "We feel the more you understand how technology works sort of behind the scenes, the better prepared you'll be to talk to computer scientists or engineers in the future regardless of what your discipline is."

 

Prioritizing tech skills

On campus, all Ohio State students are equipped with an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Apple Keyboard from day one in order to engrain computer learning across curricula. There is also training provided on basic coding skills, and a free Swift coding certificate offered for those who want to advance their skills.

Tressler says that reports from alumni have affirmed that having a background of design and coding fluency is becoming evermore essential for securing a job and advancing one's career. "I don't really see any career field that isn't being touched by technology now and won't continue to be touched by more technology in the future."

 

Outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, the Mobile Design Lab offers a convenient and flexible way for students and faculty at all six Ohio State campuses to build their digital skills. From learning what is needed to build an app to exploring job market trends to connecting with fellow students and industry experts, the bus is a one-stop shop for knowledge that is quickly becoming a necessity.

Student mentor Hanna Kim credits her experience in the Digital Flagship program with opening her eyes to how she can use technology in ways she thought were out of her grasp.

"The scariest part of coding is that, 'Oh, it's hard and I can't do it because I'm not in computer science and engineering,'" says Kim, a junior speech and hearing science student. "I think that's what threw me off. And, I think that seeing other people that can do it, gives you more of an idea that it is possible to work with things, work with technology, work with coding, and makes it a little bit less intimidating."

 

Working across Ohio

The Mobile Design Lab is a natural extension of the Digital Flagship's on-campus mission and touches on Ohio State's land-grant mission, which codifies service for all citizens of the state. The 35-foot long bus allows the Digital Flagship to operate across the state's 88 counties. They've held learning events everywhere from rural elementary schools to the state house, with an emphasis on reaching those who've been traditional left behind in terms of access to technology.

"Ohio is a large state with a lot of rural and urban and suburban areas sort of mixed, but the land mass that's out there is mostly rural," says Tressler. "How do we get out to those people, like, where I grew up in Northwest Ohio to provide them these skills? There's a lot of talk right now in state and national government about the reskilling of our workforce, and that's part of what the mission of this bus is."

 

Shaping the future

Given the myriad ways that technology and computing have become inextricable in our work and personal lives, painting an accurate roadmap of how the future will be shaped is impossible. But what energizes Tressler is the knowledge that the Digital Flagship and the Mobile Design Lab are giving to students, faculty, staff and Ohioans a firm foundation from which to help write that future.

"It's incredibly exciting to think about what's going to come out of the Mobile Design Lab," remarks Tressler. "What are these skills that we're trying to educate our faculty, staff and students in the greater Ohio community on going to build? It's really exciting to think about what can come out of this lab by giving people tools with which they can innovate for their own future and for the entire state."