Students can keep their Apple iPads for a small technology fee.

Freed-Hardeman University is a private Christian university in Tennessee. With fewer than 2,000 students and a student-to-faculty ratio of 14 to 1, the school is known for cultivating a personal experience in which students are more than just faces in the crowd.

Since 2008, FHU also has been on the cutting edge of using technology to foster a more participatory learning experience for students, through a program known as iKnow.

Here, Betsy Hull Hesselrode, assistant vice president for alumni relations, describes the university’s iKnow initiative and the keys to its success. (Editor’s note: To nominate your college or university for this award, and to read about past award winners, go to

How does your campus use technology to advance student learning?

We are an Apple Distinguished School—a pretty big deal for a small liberal-arts school with about 2,000 students. Our signature program is called the iKnow initiative. Launched in the fall of 2008, the program blends mobile technology with student learning and campus life.

In the past, incoming freshmen have received a MacBook and their choice of an iPhone or iPod Touch device. This fall, we’ll be giving all freshmen an iPad instead through our refresh of the iKnow initiative, called iKnow 2.0. As part of iKnow 2.0, all faculty will receive iPads as well.

Besides iPads and MacBooks, all students receive Microsoft Office for the Mac. The software becomes the property of the student, as long as the student graduates from FHU; otherwise it must be removed from their computer upon leaving school. And we’ve provided a list of recommended apps for the iPad, such as the FHU Mobile app and productivity tools such as Dropbox and Evernote.

Not only will the iPad play a role in preparing students for employment; we expect it to enhance instruction and improve student learning outcomes. One of the most exciting opportunities the iPad offers is access to interactive digital textbooks. This not only saves money that is normally spent on traditional textbooks, but also provides a more participatory learning environment.

For example, when biology students are learning about a certain part of the body, they can click on the text within the eBook and see 3-D images or real pictures of it. They can see a digital “dissection” of it, without going to the lab.  It adds a whole new dimension of interactive content, and the sky truly is the limit with what teachers can do in the classroom.

I teach Commercial Law and Business Law, and I am able to post videos, movie clips, and different things from the internet as part of my class. Students can look at these things during class, and we can review them as part of a class discussion. The mobility of the iPad makes it great for these kinds of learning experiences.

As for class participation, we can give real-time surveys or quizzes in class, with the answers posted through the classroom projector for everybody to see. We can post a survey and everybody can respond on their iPad, and then we can compile the results for the class. For people who don’t like to raise their hands or be “seen,” it gives them a way to give feedback and to engage in class. I really think the iPad gives us a way to engage students, no matter their personality or learning style.

As both students and faculty embrace the iKnow initiative and the mobility it provides, a natural derivative has been the availability of near real-time communications. Faculty can host virtual office meetings and allow questions to be asked using the iKnow applications or using SMS technology. Students and faculty can share resources with each other via Facebook, Twitter, and other appropriate collaborative tools.


Have you noticed an increase in student performance and/or motivation? If so, how?

I have personally noticed technology being used across campus on an increasing basis. Our students are more engaged and more equipped when they leave. Being a small school, we can sometimes be at a disadvantage with respect to the kinds of resources we can provide. The iPad has leveled that playing field for us—giving us access to world-class books, resources, and letting us do things like Skype with people whom we could never afford to pay to come speak to our students. The technology is awesome.

How do you use technology to streamline administration and aid in decision-making?

I will only speak for my department, but the use of Google Docs has revolutionized our time use and meetings. Instead of circulating documents or eMails, we can edit and comment on documents in real time, collaborating with our colleagues who are across campus or in another city. We have cut down on the time it takes to get documents ready, make policies, update each other—just everything.

We all use Apple products—the MacBook, MacBook Pro, iPhone, and so on. When I send ideas to our design folks, I can make a sketch on a piece of paper, take a photo (or use FaceTime if I’m being fancy), and send it to them. That’s way better than trying to describe fonts or shapes over the phone.

How has this streamlining helped your administration in the long run?

I think we get things done quicker, and I think that trickles down to our students in the long run—it’s all about customer service!

How has your campus financed its technology initiatives?

We add a fee to the student’s cost. It is still a great value, given that they get to keep their iPad and they get it loaded up front and get free customer service.

What has been your biggest challenge in integrating technology into academics and campus life?

I think it has been hardest to get some of our older faculty or administration to embrace the technology. By and large, once people get over their fears, they love it, but it can be frustrating at times. We already had great infrastructure for technology, but the human element was the hardest part.

How did you overcome this challenge?

Lots of training programs, and several “opinion makers” on campus embraced the technology and showed others how it works.

Two facilities have been developed by our Instructional Technology team to support and promote the innovative use of technology by our faculty and students: the Teaching and Learning Center and the Innovator’s Room.

The Teaching and Learning Center serves as a resource for all faculty members who are interested in developing and incorporating technology into their pedagogy. This room contains different types of hardware and software that enable faculty members to improve their technological skills, develop course content, and become innovative thinkers.

The Innovator’s Room is specially equipped with integrated audio and video equipment that can be used to engage and challenge students in ways not possible in more traditional classrooms.

Training is conducted on a regular basis. Faculty are introduced to various technologies, reinforced with hands-on support.

What’s your best or most useful ed-tech advice for colleagues?                 

Be patient—not everybody will embrace technology or find a great use for it.

(Material from the FHU website also was used in this report.)

About the Author:

Denny Carter

Dennis has covered higher education technology since April 2008, having interviewed some of the most recognized IT pros in U.S. colleges and universities. He is always updating eCampus News with the latest in pressing ed-tech issues, such as the growing i

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