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The Road to 24/7

In the move to anywhere/anytime computing, four institutions find that innovations and gutsy pilots may deliver huge dividends.

WHAT IF A COMMUTER college in New York City could reach every student at once by cell phone during a city transportation strike? What if universities could license news content from public radio content providers and make it searchable? What if students could subscribe to recorded lecture content as podcasts, enhanced with instructor notes and slides?

Academic ComputingWireless and mobile technologies are now everywhere, and 24/7 computing is as pervasive a term as the actual capability promises to be. Sometimes, in fact, the push toward mobile technologies can seem overwhelming. But every wireless project d'esn’t have to involve redesigning the network and investing in mega-dollars worth of hardware and software. Nor d'es every project need to extend across the entire campus and involve every student. Rather, as with the examples above, small pilots can pave the way for the biggest projects and can serve as a test ground for larger rollouts. But what are new and effective hands-on ways that your own campus can enhance learning with mobile wireless devices like smart phones, PDAs, iPods, and more? Administrators at the four schools that follow have been involved in relatively small pilot projects that are yielding promising results.

Use cell phones as academic tools to deliver information to students and enhance sense of community Baruch College,
a senior college of The City University
Applications work with virtually any cell phone Rave Wireless
Offer recorded lectures as podcasts to enhance mobile access to content Santa Clara University,
Santa Clara, CA
Tegrity Campus for recording lectures; any MP3-capable device for listening Tegrity
Distribute smart phones(combined cell phones/PDAs) to 120 students; study how they’re used Wake Forest University,
Winston-Salem, NC
Two smart phone models: Cingular Siemens SX66, Pocket PC; Sprint Nextel 6600 Cingular Wireless;
Make select radio news content available for download and search Duke University,
Durham, NC
Any MP3-capable device, including iPods, PDAs, and computers Public Radio
Cell Phones at Baruch College

Instead of fighting student cell phone use, some schools are embracing it. At Baruch College in New York City (one of 10 senior colleges of The City University of New York), CIO Arthur Downing is working with Rave Wireless to supply students with cell-phone-accessible applications for academic-oriented uses.

Downing explains that although the school’s 15,000 students have good access to computers on campus, and wireless coverage is fairly pervasive, students wanted more. “They want to check things quickly,” he explains. “Rather than [adding more computer] labs and kiosks, we wanted an easier way to get our Web-based applications to them.”

A Baruch survey conducted before the pilot program revealed that 90 percent of students carried cell phones with them everywhere. So in a pilot program last fall (which will result in a campuswide rollout of the program in fall 2006), Baruch began offering a growing variety of Webbased applications that can deliver information to students via cell phone. The pilot involved 100 students; some 500 alltold are currently signed up, and Downing hopes to have three-quarters of the Baruch student body on board when the program g'es live in the fall.

“We don’t have a wealthy student body,” Downing says, and most students don’t carry a laptop or a PDA. And since all Baruch’s students commute, spending less time on campus as conventional students, there’s little time to connect with others or take advantage of university services. “So, right now anyway, our [cell phone] applications are meant to help them use their time between classes most efficiently,” Downing says. Among other things, he explains, “We’re trying to build a sense of community.”

Check on changes/availability, and connect with peers. The software that allows the school to deliver academic information to virtually any cell phone is supplied by Rave Wireless. Students can receive text message alerts about class changes or cancellations, and can join cell phone “channels” to correspond with students of similar interests. The applications Baruch and Rave are offering also allow students to use cell phones to check on the availability of loaner laptops and study rooms.

An administrative console allows the school to deliver messages to all students, or a select segment. Yet, rapidly notifying all of Baruch’s commuter students about class changes and other news is crucial. For example, Downing points out, during New York City’s recent transportation strike, the cell phone service would have been an invaluable way to immediately reach all students with schedule changes or other updates.

Instantaneous class feedback. One application from Rave that Baruch is testing allows students to use their phones to instantly “vote” during class, in response to assessment questions from professors. Baruch has tested the technology in a psychology class, but found obstacles. For example, most faculty members simply don’t want students using cell phones in class for any purpose. “It d'esn’t matter if it’s part of the instruction,” Downing says. “The professors don’t want students taking the phones out and turning them on.” Also, the pilot revealed that cell phone signal strength in classrooms isn’t as strong as expected for some carriers. Since students are using various providers, that’s an issue yet to be resolved.

Academic Computing

At Baruch College, students can receive cell phone text-message alerts about class changes or cancellations, and can join cell phone ‘channels’ to correspond with students of similar interests.

Pens and Podcasting at Santa Clara University

Podcasting is suddenly everywhere, and in response, vendors are stepping up to make podcasts easier to capture, enhance, deliver, and catalog. Santa Clara University, a Jesuit Catholic university of 8,000-plus students in California’s Silicon Valley, is making innovative use of recorded lectures by experimenting with podcasting.

In its simplest sense, podcasting means making audio or video files available for download over the Internet, to devices such as computers, iPods, and PDAs. A subscription system “feeds” the content, allowing users to receive new files automatically. Apple’s iTunes store is the most well-known example of this, but plenty of other sites offer podcasting services, as well. For example, news content providers such as CNN and National Public Radio now offer podcasting, as do Yahoo!, Slate, Forbes, and The New York Times, among others.

Lecture capture and note-taking. At Santa Clara, the school is using a lecture capture solution from Tegrity as part of its podcasting experiment. Tegrity Campus is enterprise software that automatically records and organizes lectures as audio or video files. Via the Web, students can listen to a lecture after it has been delivered, while viewing any associated materials added by the instructor during the lecture.

As the software records the lectures, it enhances them by breaking the content down into chapters, and by adding visual elements such as Web sites, slideshows, spreadsheets, or written remarks. In addition, Tegrity has partnered with Blackboard, and Campus integrates with the Blackboard courseware management system; Tegrity says that Campus is compatible with all CMSs, including WebCT, Datatel, and Campus Management. As for Santa Clara, the university is using ANGEL Learning Management System from ANGEL Learning as its courseware management solution.

At Santa Clara, the Tegrity solution also includes a special digital pen for taking notes on regular paper during class. The system digitizes the students’ handwritten notes as they are taken down, then automatically synchronizes the notes with the recorded instruction. Later, in front of a computer, students can view their notes online, exactly as they were written in class, and can click on any notation to hear the instructor explain a particular concept again.

According to Santa Clara CIO Ron Danielson, the solution works well because it means that students don’t need a computer in class. “We haven’t got a lot of classrooms with power or networking capabilities,” Danielson says, and students rarely bring a laptop to class. With Tegrity, “the students can simply come in to class, and use the [Tegrity] pen to take notes as they usually do.”

Danielson, who also teaches, likes the fact that regardless of how students listen to lectures later, each class is recorded. That can free students from madly taking notes while he speaks, and because they can listen instead of transcribing, the technology, he asserts, “is a great learning tool.”

Jay Dominick

Wake Forest CIO Jay Dominick sees academic
potential in today's improved smart phones.

Streaming or podcast. In the podcasting pilot at Santa Clara, Tegrity is now formatting lectures both for conventional streaming video use online, and as podcasts. There is no extra charge from the vendor for the podcasting capability, which the company includes as part of Tegrity Campus. With the podcasts added, students can now access course content not just via the Web, but through any MP3-capable device, such as an iPod or other MP3 player. That makes content access extremely mobile—available while a student stands in line for coffee, works out, or traverses the campus. Students also can choose to subscribe to course podcasts through Apple’s iTunes. Tegrity sends an e-mail to each student at the beginning of a course with an invitation and link to subscribe. Depending on the receiving device— such as newer iPods with video capabilities— students can also view slides and class notations from instructors on their MP3 devices.

As the podcast pilot continues, Danielson says administrators will be watching closely to find the answers to questions such as: How many students will access podcasts, compared to the number who use the material available online as streaming media? And where will they listen? “We’re very curious about what the use of this extreme mobility will be as students review the recorded lectures,” Danielson says.

Smart Phones at Wake Forest

“Smart phones” combine the features of cell phones with information-management features common to PDAs—features such as Wi-Fi connectivity, contact management, and e-mail retrieval. At Wake Forest University (NC), CIO Jay Dominick sees a definite future in such small, mobile, data-access devices— especially as the technology continues to improve. Results from a pilot project the school conducted with smart phones in fall 2005 are promising, but still inconclusive.

Moving students from cell phones to smart phones. The private liberal arts university ran a pilot project this past fall in which 120 students were given a Pocket PC smart phone: either a Cingular Siemens SX66 Pocket PC, or a Sprint Nextel 6600. The devices in the pilot combine the functions of a cell phone and a mobile computer with wireless access, and are equipped with instant messaging, text messaging, and various customized software. The caveat: While all the devices had cell phone capabilities, it was up to each student to decide whether to move his or her cell phone service to the new device. The university’s questions as they conducted the pilot included: How much would students use the devices? How would select instructors incorporate them into classes? Would cell phone service combined with PDA capabilities prove useful?

Some of the results are inconclusive, and that may be because Dominick simply hasn’t yet had a chance to study all of the data. Even so, on the heels of the experiment, Wake Forest is considering where to go next with the devices. Some definite trends emerged, as well as some interesting ways to use mobile devices in classrooms.

The study showed that, for one thing, cell phone connectivity is key to making a device valuable. A PDA is simply another digital device unless it becomes a student’s cell phone; then, it becomes indispensable.

The latest PDAs: good news—and bad. Chemistry professor Robert Swofford volunteered to participate in the study because he’d been part of an earlier Wake Forest pilot with Hewlett- Packard iPAQs just three years earlier. The early PDA models (now looking cumbersome and limited) have come a long way in just three years, and Swofford wanted to see how the newer devices with cell phone capabilities could enhance his classrooms. “When this new pilot was proposed, I elbowed my way into it,” he says. “I wanted to see how things had changed.”

The good news is that robust Web applications and far better networking capability (including 802.11-standard wireless coverage campuswide) have made the devices far more usable than three years ago. The bad news: Not enough useful software is available, Swofford found, especially for chemistry courses. Swofford used one Flashbased chemistry-specific application that the Wake Forest IS department had written for the previous pilot and which again proved useful. But although he had great ideas for more applications, developing them in-house would have been time-consuming and costly, so he decided against requesting more. Still, the professor found creative ways to use the devices in class, with interesting conclusions that suggest further experimentation with mobile devices at Wake Forest would be beneficial. (See box below: “3 Smart Ways to Use a Smart Phone in Class.”)

3 Smart Ways to Use a Smart Phone in Class

If you’re wondering how to successfully integrate a PDA or other small wireless device into class, Wake Forest University chemistry professor Robert Swofford used smart phones in three ways during a pilot of the device conducted in fall 2005. He found all of them to be effective, particularly in enhancing communication between instructor and student. Swofford tested the smart phones in a first-year chemistry course.

First, to encourage students to bring the devices to class, he began each class with a one-question quiz, asking a simple question about the reading assignment, and awarding students a small amount of credit for responding. Students sent their responses (with their names included) to his computer via the wireless connection, where he could tabulate them instantly.

Second, he used the wireless connectivity abilities of the devices during class to collect immediate feedback throughout the lecture. Several times during each class, he paused and asked students to “vote” electronically on whether they understood a concept. The results were collected into Swofford’s wireless notebook computer. Since votes were anonymous, students responded frankly, allowing him to immediately decide whether to repeat a point or continue.

Third, he encouraged students to use the devices immediately after class, while still in the classroom, to send post-class feedback. The amount of feedback was surprisingly high, he says, which he attributes to the immediacy the devices allowed.

Radio Content at Duke University

Recent experiments with the Apple iPod at Duke University (NC) are wellknown. But smaller, less-noticed pilots at Duke are examining other ways that wireless and mobile devices can be put to new classroom use.

The iPod has opened up the university to new ideas around the role of audio in learning, according to Lynne O’Brien, Duke’s director of the Center for Instructional Technology. Once podcasting became available last year, says O’Brien, new projects sprang up as faculty and students found new ways to use MP3- capable devices, beyond listening to podcasts of lectures or other course material.

Radio as device audio. In one current pilot project, Duke is working with news radio publisher Public Radio International (PRI) to create a model for making relevant radio content available to universities. Working together, the two hope to create a model that will work for other schools as well. The project began with a small pilot in fall 2005, and will expand to 20 faculty members this spring.

“We said, if [students] are carrying iPods and PDAs and using them all the time, well, radio is all about audio,” O’Brien recalls. “So how can we make that relevant?” Duke has had content available via streaming audio over its Web site for some time. But in the partnership with PRI, the two are examining issues such as how to make specific radio content available for selective download, what content should be offered, and what faculty and students might do with such content.

The business model is also under discussion— would universities such as Duke license the content from PRI? At what cost? Would they use a university licensing model, or a more consumerbased approach?

A key question Duke is asking its librarians is this: How could students and faculty search content for what they want? “If you wanted that perfect fiveminute interview with a figure in the Middle East,” O’Brien asks, “how would you find it among hours and hours of news programming?”

From the limited fall pilot, O’Brien says short clips of timely news programming seem most useful. Faculty members have also used specific interviews tied to a subject under discussion. Writing professors have had students listen to radio content about specific books, and journalism students, predictably, have found various broadcasts useful. Foreign language programming is also of interest, via the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC).

O’Brien says PRI approached Duke specifically because of the publicity surrounding its iPod experiment. Part of the payoff from Duke’s bold iPod project, then, may be a surge in new pilots such as this one.

Academic Computing

At Duke University, where students are carrying iPods and PDAs and using them constantly, radio content can now become relevant.

Test the Waters

Whether it’s digital pens at Santa Clara University, iPods at Duke, or an academic use for cell phones at Baruch College, small mobile devices are big news. Some make use of the campus wireless network, some utilize cell phone networks, and some, like Wake Forest’s smart phones, use both. In either case, even small pilot projects like the ones highlighted here can help you test the waters with students, faculty, and staff. That, in turn, can help you prepare for what’s ahead with wireless. And more functionalities are sure to develop as mobile technologies leap forward.

As Santa Clara CIO Ron Danielson concludes, “The mobility issue is really interesting. All of higher education is going to have to come to grips with it, whatever the format of the mobile device.”

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