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Abilene Christian University Mobilizes Learning with Smartphones

ACU commits to mobile, delivers advanced applications supported by an Alcatel-Lucent network infrastructure
University Business, December 2012

Integrating mobile devices in learning is getting to be old hat in Abilene, Texas.

As early as 2008, Abilene Christian University (ACU) was the first university in the United States to provide each incoming student with an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch. Each of the nearly 4,800 students on the ACU campus located 180 miles west of Dallas can access course calendars, campus maps, receive homework alerts, security alerts, and answer in-class surveys and quizzes, among other ACUdeveloped web applications.

Alcatel-Lucent, a partner with Abilene Christian University since 2001, provides ACU with a wired and wireless multimedia network environment that gives students unique services customized for these devices and access to information wherever and whenever they need it. “As we started with a mobile device that is Wi-Fi enabled, it was significant for us to be able to provide and to engage Alcatel-Lucent in a process where we refocused our efforts on capacity as opposed to coverage when it came to the Wi-Fi system,” says Arthur Brant, Director of Enterprise Infrastructure at ACU.

With adding thousands of devices to the network, the system had to have the capacity to scale both in terms of user support as well as the number of applications. To support these goals, ACU deployed an advanced fiber optic network that delivers campuswide IP telephony with advanced calling features that include support for the analog phones already on campus. It provides secure VLAN campus networking with intrusion detection and prevention, virus containment, and firewalls.

Through strategic design, Abilene Christian has full wireless coverage across the 208-acre campus— covering in-building and outdoor spaces—to enhance students’ mobile learning experience. This experience has become a campuswide program called ACU Connected. Students and faculty have developed numerous ways to leverage mobile and revolutionize campus life at the university level and for K12.

New applications range from in-class learning tools to mobile interaction during theater productions. Abilene Christian launched a YouTube page to memorialize its efforts at: The university is now also exploring distribution and use of iPads, which have already been given to Physical Resources staff for managing work orders. “We have considered providing laptops to all of our students, but research showed that the vast majority of students were already bringing laptops with them to campus,” says Brant. “We examined a number of handheld devices, but each presented significant adoption barriers.

With the release of the Apple iPhone, and its fully functioning Web browser, we recognized the device as a tipping point. Our faculty tried them out and championed the decision to move forward with the iPhones.” Today’s learners are different. This generation is different. They have always had the internet; they have always had cellphones. They always need to be connected. The world that this generation inhabits is one that is increasingly mobile and increasingly reliant on converged media devices.

“When you talk to parents and you help connect the dots for them and say this is why we are doing this, the response has been overwhelming,” says Kevin Roberts, ACU’s associate vice president of operations. “Parents of ACU students are very positive about the education their children are receiving at ACU from using the latest in technology to learn.”

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