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The Collaborative Campus

How instructor-inspired mobile apps are promoting interactive learning
University Business, May 2013

Sharing information on the go is second nature to today’s college student. That reality is pushing higher ed leaders to leverage that connectivity to build a more interactive learning environment. Smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and other mobile devices offer flexibility in extending the learning space beyond the classroom and getting students more engaged.

Institutions should involve faculty in planning the programs and designing applications for the devices, says Veronica Diaz, associate director of the Educause Learning Initiative. “The most innovative work that I see happening is when institutions direct money, resources, and time toward those who are on the front lines teaching.”

That’s exactly the approach CIO Stephen Landry takes in overseeing the mobile computing program at Seton Hall University (N.J.). “Whenever we look at a new technology, we’re not focused on, ‘That’s cool! I’d like to have that device,’ ” he says. Instead, the focus is on how students and faculty would use it.

Here’s a closer look at how three institutions are carving out their paths to collaborative learning through mobile technology use.

Seton Hall University: Smartphone Success

In June 2012, Seton Hall officials gave each of the 1,400 students who showed up for freshman orientation a Nokia Windows phone and a six-month voice and data plan. A first-semester student must take a freshman studies course and an English course—a common experience that provided a ready-made framework on which to build a more collaborative learning space. “We wanted to form this community of learners and get them engaged with each other,” says Paul Fisher, Jr., associate chief information officer and director of the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center.

In-house IT experts upgraded an existing campus information app to incorporate student-specific information for freshmen. For instance, a student can pull up a list of his or her courses for the semester, along with contact information for classmates. Someone who is struggling in a class, therefore, can seek out a peer who always seems to be on top of the material and ask for study tips.

Seton Hall professors, meanwhile, have incorporated the smartphones into their lesson plans. In core curriculum classes, traditional writing assignments have been expanded to include digital stories as well, Fisher says. An assignment might involve using the smartphone to take pictures or record videos.

The Nokia smartphone handout, Landry shares, was an expansion of a pilot smartphone program made possible through a subsidy from AT&T to help cover the cost of the usage plan, plus a deep discount from Nokia for the hardware.

Dodge City Community College: iPad Infrastructure

In fall 2012, Dodge City Community College (Kan.) began requiring every student to have an iPad. The idea grew from conversations about how to boost retention, notes Thad Russell, dean of technology and distance education. Every suggested strategy seemed to boil down to engagement, how to keep students interested, he adds.

Russell previously worked at Manhattan Technical College, also in Kansas, where he had implemented a 1:1 laptop initiative in the 1990s. When he suggested that Dodge City Community College consider a similar program, President Donald A. Woodburn asked Russell and the mostly faculty-based technology committee to conduct an evaluation. Early on, they considered and eliminated the BYOD option.“We felt that if we were going to require that, we would have to have the structural support on campus to do it, and we don’t,” says Russell, who found the campus lagging in its adoption of technology when he arrived.
In technical education classes, which account for 40 to 50 percent of DCCC enrollment, students record task demonstrations on their iPads, and some faculty have recorded demos and posted them on YouTube. In a math class, the instructor uses a whiteboard app and voiceover feature on the iPad to review complex problems, while students can use the same app to work their own problems and get feedback from the instructor.

Students can use federal financial aid to purchase their iPads through a bursar account—a program Russell says is the first of its kind in the nation. Kansas state law prohibited the college from entering into a more typical arrangement for students to purchase the iPads through Apple’s online campus store, Russell says. When IT came up with the idea of deferring the cost of the devices against students’ financial aid, Apple’s authorization for the college to become a reseller of the company’s product was needed. It took several months of negotiating to persuade Apple to change its general policy and accept the arrangement.

“That was very difficult. I have twice the amount of grey hair and three times the blood pressure now after going through that with Apple and making it work,” Russell quips.

Apple has granted DCCC permission to use the same purchase program next year, and Russell credits the school’s Apple Education rep for going to bat for it.

“Our rep and his supervisor have petitioned hard for an alternative accommodation similar to what we have for everybody else,” Russell says, adding that it seems that Apple leaders realize there is going to have to be some way of dealing with that scenario for colleges.

Colgate University: Google for Growth

At Colgate University (N.Y.), a Google Apps for Education Institution, faculty and administrators are finding a number of ways to leverage the collaborative benefits of the Google environment using mobile devices, says Ray Nardelli, director of academic technology and digital media at the school.

In January, for example, one faculty member began participating in a pilot program to provide free iPads to a select group of students, using Google Apps to facilitate document sharing.

With half the funds coming from IT’s budget and half from the general budget, Nardelli acquired enough iPads for two courses with up to 20 students each. Working with the Faculty Development Council, his staff issued a call for proposals to faculty in fall 2012. After a faculty team review, two winners—a chemistry class and a digital studio art class—were selected from among nine entries.

In her proposal, assistant chemistry professor Kristin Pangallo envisioned students being able to use Google Drive apps on the tablets to share the results of lab experiments in preparation for class discussions. In class, the instructor can post discussion questions on a Google document to which students can add and share their comments, Nardelli says.

Nardelli’s own office recently employed Google Form to quickly gather information from a group of about 25 students on campus, embedding the form he created in an email. “All they have to do is put some information in the form, hit ‘submit,’ and it fills a spreadsheet for me that I can access through Google Drive,” he says.

His ultimate goal? Make the iPad program sustainable with additional funding, if faculty find the devices useful enough for their classes. “I’m looking at this as a discipline-specific application,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all [approach]. It depends on each department and each faculty member.”