Blackboard transforms mobile devices into student IDs

One ubiquitous college student staple is set to replace another this year as Blackboard Inc. attempts to turn mobile devices into campus ID cards.

The Blackboard app works even when a phone is turned off.

Students at many campuses can already use their mobile devices to check bus schedules, submit their homework, and receive emergency notifications.

Blackboard’s new pilot program would enable students to use their devices for a laundry list of other tasks – including laundry.

The learning management system company’s program, called Blackboard Transact, is being piloted at Quinnipiac University and Tulane University.

Students who have downloaded the app can open doors, pay for campus meals, purchase items in vending machines, and use copiers and printers, all with the wave of a smart phone.

“Campuses are going mobile and we wanted to leverage this reality by giving students a seamless experience to navigate campus with a mobile credential,” said John Meriano, associate vice president for auxiliary services at Quinnipiac University.

See Page 2 for details on how the app works — even when a student’s phone is turned off.

Blackboard is marketing the app as the “industry’s first native NFC mobile campus credential.”

That means the app utilizes device readers that use what’s called “near field communication” to sense the mobile devices when they are close by.

As the app is taking advantage of the NFC capabilities built inside phones, the app doesn’t have to be active for a transaction to be completed. In fact, the device doesn’t have to be turned on or even have any battery life left.

Blackboard has been quietly working on the technology since 2008, and the company began installing NFC-compatible hardware devices on campuses in 2010.

While this pilot program will run through May, other universities may end up taking advantage of the app much sooner, as those same devices are already installed on more than 250 campuses.

Helping students manage their lives on a physical campus is a shift for Blackboard, which has primarily been confined to just helping students manage their educational lives online.

“The student world is a mobile world, accelerated by the proliferation of mobile learning and BYOT (bring your own technology),” David Marr, president of Blackboard Transact, said in an announcement. “Mobile devices are core to the educational experience. It is only logical to extend that core to the student credential, rather than asking students to carry and manage multiple credentials and form factors when trying to navigate the campus environment.”

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