The buzz around Campus Technology 2012 was all about mobility. Tablets, smartphones, e-readers, digital content and mobile applications were the topics of discussion at several panels.
Some of the questions surrounded device ownership. For example, with tablets, some of the conference attendees debated whether colleges should encourage students to bring their own devices or purchase the devices and retain ownership.
And beyond the devices themselves, the question of securing the data transmitted to and from these devices is an issue that colleges are grappling with as the number of Internet-connected devices continues to trend upward.
Here's an overview of some of the panels at Campus Technology 2012 that touched on mobile technology.
University of the Sciences Roll Out Tablet Pilot for Chemistry Class
Established in 1821, the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia is distinguished by the fact that it was the first university to teach pharmacy in North America. Given the school's history in pharmacology, chemistry courses play a significant role in the education of many students at UoS.
Richard Cosgriff, director of classroom technology at the university, gave a presentation outlining the results and highlights of their tablet pilot. Dr. Catherine Bentzley's CHEM 111 Principles of Chem I course was the guinea pig for the university and 35 students were given tablets to use for the semester.
One of the main uses of the tablets in class was for interactive instruction in the classroom. Using a stylus and a sktech app, Dr. Bentzley's was able to send and receive chemistry formulas in real-time. This meant that students could save on scrap paper and pencils. Another great benefit was access to the library's ProQuest and ChemnetBase databases through mobile apps. This meant students no longer had to trudge to the library to do their research.
The pilot has proved a success. So much so that the college plans on expanding the pilot to five programs next year.
Central Michigan University's Mobile Machine
In 2011, 15,000 wireless devices on average connected to Central Michigan University's network each day, says Ryan Laus, the college's network manager. But this year, 25,000 wireless devices per day connected to the network after spring break.
With some students coming to college with a notebook, a video game system, a smartphone and a tablet, campus networks are having to support more devices per student. This is a challenge from a load perspective and a security perspective, Laus says.
"We currently have around 28,000 available IP addresses for devices on our network," he says. "We hope to get more addresses after switching over to IPv6."
One of the ways Laus keeps tabs on all of the connected devices on CMU's network is through a network access control (NAC) solution. Using this tool, Laus is able to pinpoint and disable devices on the network by MAC address and he's able to set up alerts for network spikes that don't fit the device's typical profile. For example, using the NAC, his team was able to spot an usual amount of network activity from a wireless printer on campus. It turned that the device had been hijacked in a botnet scheme, he says.
Mobile computing poses challenges for anyone working in IT. WIred connections are generally more stable and reliable than wireless connections, but wireless is what students want, Laus says.
"A residence hall is the most hostile RF environment known to man," he adds. "We've given up performance for convenience, we can't change and make [students] use wired connections."
Improving the student experience is key to colleges student retention goals and enhancing that experience should be the goal of everyone on campus, including IT. Which is why he focuses on optimizing network speed and high availability for CMU students.
"A game like 'Diablo 3' will take you about an hour or two hours to download at home. It takes about 2 minutes on our network," Laus says. "They love that."
E-Textbooks Can Be a Mixed Bag
Located on Aquidneck Island in Newport, R.I., Salve Regina University is a small liberal arts university serving about 2,000 students. Arlene Nicholas and John Lewis, both professors at the university, decided to take on an e-textbooks experiment.
Four years ago, Lewis took a hardball approach at first, making e-textbooks mandatory for his students. But he found that not all of his students were ready to go all in on e-textbooks. And the survey data that both professors collected from their students backed this up, as most students said they preferred to have access to both a print and digital version of their textbooks.
One of the most attractive elements of e-textbooks for their students was the lower price point. According to a U.S. Public Interest Research Group survey, 7 out of 10 students have skipped buying a textbook due to cost. This means that schools should keep cost in mind with any digital textbook solution they're considering.
Another consideration is access to Internet and bandwidth.
"I heard that students were going to the library because the bandwidth is a lot better there than in the dorms," he says.
For educators worried that the learning curve to using e-textbooks is steep, Lewis and Nicholas say they didn't see that with their students. Most students were able to access and read the e-textbooks without incident. But students did miss out on some of the richer features of their e-textbooks without guidance. So it's a good idea to provide some kind of orientation or tutorial for students who are new to using e-textbooks.
For more coverage from Campus Technology 2012, check out our conference hub.