The iPhone and the 21st Century University

iphone2.jpgNext fall, all new fresh­men attend­ing ACU (Abi­lene Chris­t­ian Uni­ver­si­ty) will receive an iPhone (or iPod Touch) when they get to cam­pus. And, from there, the Apple gad­get will fig­ure cen­tral­ly to stu­dents’ cam­pus expe­ri­ence. The iPhone is the lat­est and great­est “con­verged mobile media device,” which com­bines in one gad­get numer­ous func­tion­al­i­ties — inter­net and email access, phone, audio, video, and maps. And once you put a gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents reared on mobile devices on this com­mon plat­form, new ways of run­ning the uni­ver­si­ty in the 21st cen­tu­ry start to open up.

The changes begin with the way uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tion gets done. ACU envi­sions stu­dents using their devices to check their meal and account bal­ances, access course cal­en­dars, receive news and spe­cial bul­letins from the uni­ver­si­ty, and tap into the uni­ver­si­ty phone/employee direc­to­ry. Not far down the line, the uni­ver­si­ty antic­i­pates that the iPhone will ful­fill cer­tain reg­is­trar func­tions — mean­ing that stu­dents can use their iPhone to scope out, and even enroll in, var­i­ous class­es. Then, they’ll add some e‑commerce to the mix and let stu­dents use their mobile device to con­duct com­merce with the book­store and uni­ver­si­ty restau­rants. Are you start­ing to get the pic­ture? The iPhone becomes a “one stop shop for infor­ma­tion and ser­vices” that can be accessed on the fly.

But what hap­pens in the class­room? I had a chance to catch up with Bill Rankin, the Direc­tor of Mobile Learn­ing Research (and also Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor & Direc­tor of Eng­lish Grad­u­ate Stud­ies) who shared some of ACU’s think­ing about how the iPhone cre­ates new teach­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. For starters, the device will allow stu­dents to access syl­labi, course doc­u­ments (cre­at­ed with Google Docs), home­work assign­ments and pod­casts that com­ple­ment the course. (Imag­ine stu­dents down­load­ing pod­cast­ed lec­tures from pre­vi­ous class­es, or lis­ten­ing to clips of Mozart in their music appre­ci­a­tion class, or review­ing bits of French dia­logue in the French 101 class.) From here, the ped­a­gog­i­cal uses of the iPhone start to deep­en. Accord­ing to Rankin, the Apple gad­get will give teach­ers the abil­i­ty to con­duct real-time sur­veys that gauge stu­dent per­cep­tions of the class (are they under­stand­ing the course? is it mov­ing too quick­ly?) and use the feed­back to make the class­es “more care­ful­ly tai­lored to the inter­ests and abil­i­ties.” It’s also an added perk that the iPhone will let stu­dents con­tribute to the class through their online per­sona, which, research shows, “embold­ens stu­dents [par­tic­u­lar­ly shy ones] who might not oth­er­wise share their ideas.” Then there’s this sce­nario (and oth­ers like it): With the iPhone, the “biol­o­gy class in the field will be able to pho­to­graph spec­i­mens, post their find­ings to oth­er class­es not cur­rent­ly in the field, com­mu­ni­cate with experts, and use the web to iden­ti­fy and research spec­i­mens. That’s trans­for­ma­tion­al, and we think it will offer dis­tinct advan­tages to our stu­dents.” Last­ly, the iPhone opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of cre­at­ing “hybrid” cours­es, which means cours­es con­duct­ed part­ly in the class­room and part­ly online. For more on the hybrid con­cept (and oth­er facets of the project), you can watch the video post­ed on YouTube that intro­duces ACU’s iPhone ini­tia­tive. We’ve post­ed Part 1 below, and you can access Part 2 here. To get more insight into ACU’s intel­li­gent think­ing about the poten­tial edu­ca­tion­al appli­ca­tions of the iPhone, you should spend some time on their “Con­nect­ed” web site.

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  • Stephen says:

    It would have been even bet­ter if they had tak­en a more open approach (Google Android based?) rather than lock­ing them­selves into a pro­pri­etary prod­uct that in any case will look quaint in a few years.

  • AJ Hyman says:

    Love­ly. And how is the uni­ver­si­ty pay­ing for all this? The hard­ware, the sup­port, the mate­ri­als and resources devel­op­ment, etc.?

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