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Beyond the News

Seton Hall Smartphones

University Business, July/August 2012
Apps help new students build social bonds and keep up on campus news.
Apps help new students build social bonds and keep up on campus news.

Students and technology go hand in hand, especially when you hand out smartphones at orientation. Seton Hall University (N.J.) did just that with Nokia Lumia 900 smartphones during orientation in June. “It’s an exciting time here at Seton Hall,” says David Middleton, assistant vice president for administration and executive director of the university’s Center for Mobile Research and Innovation. “This is part of an ongoing effort we’ve been taking on for a few years,” he says, adding that students also receive a PC.

Smartphones are the next evolution in their laptop program that started in 1997, he says. “The value of having that history and these established partnerships was critical for us to be able to do this and do it effectively.” There is an assumption that all students come to campus with a smartphone, but the ones who don’t won’t be broadcasting it, Middleton points out. “But by ensuring they all have the same technology in their pockets, we can be sure we’re providing the same experience to them all equitably.”

The move to handheld devices is an acknowledgement of the “meteoric” rise in mobile technology, as well as a desire to ensure graduates are prepared to work with a variety of devices when they enter the professional world. “We have a primary partnership with Microsoft, AT&T, and Nokia,” Middleton explains. “That allows us to provide a greater package than we could afford. There are no extra technology fees associated with it.”

While strategies are being developed to integrate the devices into the curriculum, the goal of distributing them during orientation was social development. The Lumias are loaded with tools to help students communicate with the peers they met on campus over the summer. “We felt they could come to orientation and form bonds with those kids as they spend their time the next few months, then arrive with an established social base,” he says.

Schools must have a handle on security and access control before introducing a similar program, advises Corinne M. Hoch, ACUTA executive director. A robust network is also a must. A recent ACUTA survey showed smartphones are the No. 2 bandwidth drain on campus at 86 percent (tablet computers are No. 1). “By attempting to standardize, they will improve their ability to provide excellent support,” she says of the Seton Hall program. “With the same devices, they are able to anticipate, train, and support so much better.”

As mobile devices make inroads into classrooms, new concerns will crop up. “What happens if you drop a class and have already purchased an app?” ponders Michael Geller, vice president of marketing for Rafter. He says that if a college doesn’t have the economic wherewithal to provide smartphones to students, it’s best to encourage an open source, bring-your-own-device approach. Faculty have the freedom to select the apps they prefer and students won’t have the financial burden of purchasing a new device because their existing one is a different platform than the professor’s.