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4 Tips for Mobile Success On Campus

Mobile technology is playing a prominent role on today's college campuses. Tablet computers, gaming consoles, smart phones, and online video presentations are eating up Internet bandwidth, creating form factor issues, and demanding higher levels of IT security. As beneficial as mobile has become to the educational space it's also put a burden on IT departments that are grappling with a new host of challenges.

Below are four areas that CIOs should keep an eye on as mobile usage expands across their campuses.

Shore Up the Campus Wi-Fi Network First
Whether the source is a 500-iPad rollout, a mass distribution of laptops, or individual users bringing multiple devices on campus, there's bound to be some bandwidth drain. Doug Hamman, director of teacher education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX, said his school's wireless network has also been overtaxed by recent mobile initiatives.

"Initially the network was intended as a courtesy to folks who were hanging out and browsing the Internet during their downtime," said Hamman. "When mobile devices came into the classrooms for instructional purposes, bandwidth became an issue because we didn't have any."

Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, experienced similar pains when it launched a "Mobile Computing 2.0" pilot that put 450 tablets into the hands of students and faculty members earlier this year. Paul Fisher, associate CIO and director of the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center, said it didn't take long for bandwidth issues to crop up. In one instance the school's networking team was dispatched to address an issue in a small conference room where 12 people were using more than 35 connected devices.

To get ahead of the issue Fisher said the school is beefing up its 802.11n wireless network, which was upgraded in 2010, with "more than 100 new, high-density access points that contain multiple radios and can support more concurrent users."

Prepare the IT Team To Support Myriad Device Types and Operating Systems
iPhones, Blackberrys, and Android smart phones are just a few of the devices that Midland, MI-based Northwood University's IT department manages on a daily basis thanks to the school's device-agnostic stance.

"My staff has to be able to handle the latest Verizon device to the iPad and everything in between," said Bob Wisler, director of information technology at Northwood. The biggest challenge, he said, is providing service equality across the myriad device types.

"I makes sure that the staff has access to Apple, Android, and other products," said Wisler, "and that they stay up to speed across different manufacturers and operating systems."

Develop Acceptable Use Policies for Mobile Devices Early in the Process
Don't just assume that all users will do the right thing when browsing the Internet and downloading content on their mobile devices. Instead, Hamman said IT departments should develop strong policies around mobile device and network usage and then have all users read and sign the policies.

Before rolling out its Teachscape Reflect Mini Camera Kit initiative--where College of Education students use iPod Touches to record their own teaching activities--earlier this year, Texas Tech developed acceptable use policies for the equipment. Students were required to read and sign the policies before receiving their devices.

"We have definite concerns about what our students are capturing in the classroom and uploading to the Web," said Hamman. "We don't want classroom videos to end up on YouTube."

Ask Faculty Members for Input Before the Rollout
Users, IT teams, and financial departments that approve or reject the projects often drive campus-wide technology initiatives, and faculty members are often at the end of the information chain, said Wisler, who suggests all CIOs incorporate instructor input into their mobile initiatives.

"When you get faculty involved at the beginning it makes them a part of the process," he said, "and helps them see that the mobile technology isn't just another intrusion into their teaching environments."

Forming executive IT committees, holding informal workshops, and doing faculty surveys are just a few good ways to get instructors onboard at the outset, according to Wisler, who said he sees mobile as a particularly vital area for early input from faculty members.

"We're already at a place where mobile technology is an everyday occurrence for pretty much everyone on campus," said Wisler. "Getting academics involved early can mean the difference between a good experience and one that's fraught with challenges."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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