I went to an interesting talk on Thursday afternoon at the Department of Informatics and the University of Edinburgh. The talk was on the introduction of the iPhone / iPod Touch at the Abilene Christian University in Texas, USA.
Every student that goes in to the University gets given either an iPhone or an iPod Touch. This is bought for them from the University. The difference is that if you opt for an iPhone the individual student has to enter into an 18 month contract with the mobile phone operator (in the US this is AT&T). There have been nearly 2000 devices distributed to students of which 68% are iPhone and 32% are iPod Touches.
The university then provides resources for its students via an interactive website that it optimized for the iPhone /iPod Touch. Lecturers and university professors also suggest and develop Apps that the students might want to download to help them with their learning. The results were quite staggering in terms of how much the students believed that the devices improved their learning and gave them confidence in class.
One of the big questions from the audience was on cost and how ever did the Abilene University afford such an initiative. It seems that the university made three very clever but significant cost savings in order to fund the initiative.
1. Cut back on open access computer suites
One of the things that the University did was cut back on the open access computer facilities that were available to students. Particularly the facilities that were available in dorm rooms (halls of residence).
After research they found that these facilities were not being used as much as they were in the past because 98% of students going to the university brought with them their own laptop. They also found that the biggest usage of the open access areas in the student accommodation was between 11pm – 3am when students were playing first person shooter games with each other!
By cutting back on and not refreshing these underused facilities they saved thousands.
2. Cut back on traditional telephone
Another significant saving was with telephone bills. As most university professors and a large proportion of students were now using the iPhone and as calls from one iPhone to another (in the States anyway) are free they effectively created a free telephone service across the campus. They also saved by not refreshing the telephone infrastructure within the University. Why would they bother – everyone has a mobile and there is a Skype App.
If everything available electronically as pdfs or as podcasts, savings on photocopying were significant.
iPhone Vs iPod Touch
One really interesting part of the study was how it seemed that the iPhone was the more successful device with the students.
This was possibility down to a number of reasons:
- Anytime, any place connectivity (and learning)
- Students felt more ownership over their phones (even though they were given them, they were still paying for them on the contract)
- Phones were nearly always brought to class and charged up where as the iPod touch was left at home more or not brought fully charged (students seemed to embrace the social connectivity of the phones more – eg: they needed their phones to stay connected to each other)
- Although it wasn’t mentioned I’m guessing that the phone also has a camera which can be used as powerful tool for learning.
Is the project iPhone / iPod Specific?
One other question from the audience was about platform and if the project completely relied on the iPhone / iPod touch. Although there were a number of university lectures (and students) who were developing Apps specifically for the Apple platform. The main resources produced by the university were all web based but optimized for the iPhone. This meant regardless of the device students could access the material in different ways.
It also means that if a more appropriate device comes along the University can easily migrate their content.
Overall a very interesting study that I would like to replicate in a school. You can find out more about what the university have done over on their website.