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2007 Campus Technology Innovators: Cellular/Mobile

2007 Campus Technology Innovators

Innovator: Montclair State University

Providing communications and mobile services to a diverse faculty and student body—the way they want it

Montclair State University, New Jersey's second largest and fastest-growing university, is committed to service as it races toward a predicted 18,000-student enrollment for its 2008 centennial. One manifestation of the institution's service mission is a program called MSU Campus Connect, which provides communications and mobile services via students' preferred technology: the cell phone. "As part of their tuition and fees, all incoming students receive a phone that is GPS-enabled and bundled with a wide variety of mobile learning, safety, community, and campus navigation tools," explains VP for IT Ed Chapel. "The program is designed to help the university keep on-campus and commuter students engaged, and improve students' overall living and learning experiences."

The original vision for Campus Connect dates back several years: It was created as a response to the Student Development and Campus Life group's reports of student complaints about unsatisfactory telephony services (an older PBX landline-based model, with residential students sharing phones in their rooms). But Chapel and others in the IT office realized that simply replacing the old landlines with cell phone service wasn't going to be enough; they looked for opportunities to add value by building a custom network for the campus—one which could support a host of cell phone-enabled applications. By 2005, the general availability of high-quality cellular service made feasible the first implementation of the Campus Connect program, which marketed cell phones to students as "portable information kiosks," with about 10 applications. The Campus Connect program now leverages the mobile functionality— and the immense popularity and familiarity—of cell phones by offering to the campus community an array of applications for academics, social networking, SMS and RSS services, GPS, and text-alerting capabilities.


Technology choices. The Campus Connect implementation forged partnerships with Sprint Nextel for telephone services, and Rave Wireless for applications development and vendor relationship management. MSU's Office of Information Technology delivers technology support. The current mobile phones—Motorola, Samsung, Sanyo, and LG handsets— are offered on the Sprint and Nextel networks, and provide specific data options that allow unlimited access to the software applications developed by the university, in collaboration with Rave Wireless.


mobile phone bundled with a
wide variety of mobile
learning,safety, community,
and campus navigation tools.

Upon enrolling in the Campus Connect program, students create a profile online and select the resources they want to receive on their phones (the resources are available via a combination of text messaging, GPS-enabled location-based services, and the mobile internet). The Campus Connect phones are centrally supported to ensure training and support are consistently provided to all students. Students receive additional benefits from the program (such as no contract requirements or activation/break fees), plus they can port their own mobile phone numbers to their Campus Connect phones.

Montclair State leverages the mobile phone to improve communication, build community, and increase access to campus application and services.

Continuing expansion. Currently, more than 3,000 students are participating in the Campus Connect program, a figure that will double in the upcoming academic year. There's now a long and growing list of applications offered, and usage of the phones extends to the classroom, where their direct-response capability allows for instant polling on surveys and quizzes. Students are using the devices for academics in myriad ways: downloading course announcements, sending text messages to professors, or accessing information that was digitally tagged during a lecture, for instance. The most visible campuswide applications include sending broadcast text messages in the event of a weather emergency; providing access to MSU e-mail, student, and staff directories; creating university groups where members can participate in group text messaging and polls; and an acclaimed Mobile Guardian feature that incorporates a GPS tracking system as a "virtual escort" a student can employ if he or she doesn't feel safe. Chapel comments on the continuing expansion of Campus Connect applications: "From a university perspective, we leverage the mobile phone to improve communication, build community, and increase access to and usage of all of our campus applications and services."

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