eCN special report: Powering the mobile campus

Jordan Maynor, a freshman at Southern Illinois University (SIU), was one of 2,700 incoming students to get a tablet computer from the university when he set foot on campus this fall.

Educators are striving to get ahead of mobile technology trends.

The 18-year-old from Mount Vernon Township, Ill., says he uses the device every single day. He uses it to take notes in class, and to get instant information about campus events.

“I can even see when my laundry is done on it,” he said. “It’s been extremely helpful to me so far.”

Like Jordan, who owned a smart phone before enrolling at SIU, the students entering college today are too young to remember a time when they could not connect, communicate, and explore instantly—from wherever they might be, at all hours of the day—using a smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device.

These “digital natives” expect the same kind of access to information in the palm of their hand when they arrive on campus—and college and university officials know they must respond to this demand if they want to attract and retain students.

Having mobile access to key campus services is “the deciding factor for a lot of students” in choosing a college, said David Crain, assistant provost and chief information officer for SIU.

A 20,000-student public research university in Carbondale, Ill., SIU gets many of its students from the nearby Chicago Public Schools, Crain said. Because Chicago’s K-12 school system has made a substantial investment in tablet computers for its instructional programs, its graduates are becoming accustomed to learning on the go.

“We believe tablets and eTexts are the wave of the future,” Crain said, “and we want to be on the front of that wave.”

With that goal in mind, SIU distributed tablets and electronic textbooks to 2,700 incoming freshmen this fall as part of its Mobile Dawg project.