Mobile learning enhances student and faculty experience at ACU

Posted August 15, 2008

ACU MobileApproximately six months after Abilene Christian University announced its intent to bring mobile learning devices into the classroom, every member of the freshman class will be presented with an Apple iPhone 3G or iPod touch this weekend. This deployment to more than 950 students marks the first time that a university has introduced these mobile devices as learning tools on such a large scale.

These new ACU Wildcats will begin their mobile learning experience Aug. 16, using the latest in mobile technology for everything from class schedules and maps to in-class, real-time surveys.

During the launch weekend, ACU also will host a number of Apple Inc., AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent representatives, as well as those from other technology industry leaders.

"This is a big weekend for everyone," said Phil Schubert, ACU executive vice president. "Of course, we are extremely excited about the students receiving their devices and beginning their school year, but we also are excited about involving our technological partners and supporters in this historical event. They have all played an important role in where we are today."

"This is the first time a university and a wireless company have worked together to combine cutting-edge technology like iPhone 3G and education in a way that enhances students’ access to educational resources and their overall learning experience," said Adam Vital, vice president and general manager of AT&T’s wireless unit in North Texas. "As the exclusive provider of the iPhone 3G in the U.S., AT&T is proud to be the provider of communication services such as voice, data, Internet access and e-mail for ACU students and faculty members."

In addition to Apple, AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent, other partners and supporters of Abilene Christian's mLearning initiative consist of technology leaders specializing in higher education applications, including Google, Turning Technologies, eMantras, Dipity and

"We have been eagerly awaiting and preparing for this group of incoming students to really show us how mobile learning can be used to enhance the learning experience," said Kevin Roberts, ACU chief information officer. "This is what we have been working towards for almost a decade."

According to Dr. William Rankin, associate professor of English and one of the lead researchers in ACU's mobile learning initiative, the university has been exploring different methods of teaching with converged media devices since 1999. "But until the iPhone and iPod touch, we had not seen a device compelling enough," he said.

Today's students have never known a world without the Internet. Therefore, teaching and learning for this generation has already begun to evolve.

"Instead of having one or two sources for information, students today have thousands of resources at their fingertips," said Rankin. "It is becoming our responsibility as educators to help them navigate the mountains of information and learn how to be selective."

ACU has taken the lead in the use of converged mobile devices within higher education settings, with many universities across the nation making subsequent announcements about their own plans.

So what makes ACU's initiative unique? "We are not merely providing cutting-edge technology tools to our incoming students," said Roberts. "We also are committed to continuing research about how technology can benefit learning and better prepare our students for the future. For their sake, it's not good enough just to keep up; we want to lead."

Rather than resisting a change that’s already old news for today's students or passively waiting for the development of new pedagogical models, ACU has committed to embracing and nurturing the trends demonstrated by the 21st-century classroom.

"When we look at the world around us, we see the impact of digital technology in every academic discipline," said George Saltsman, director of the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning. "We live in a time where artists paint without brushes and musicians compose without instruments."

Incoming freshmen will be issued their devices during ACU’s Welcome Week orientation, when there will be special introductory and informational classes on how to set up and use them.

ACU representatives are careful to note the iPhone and iPod touch will not replace face-to-face learning. "Interaction between the professor and students is an integral part of the learning process," said Dr. Kyle Dickson, associate professor of English & director of Mobile Learning Research. "These devices will allow teachers to enhance the educational experience."

ACU's mobile website can be viewed at viewed on an iPhone or Safari Web browser).