Why you should approach “fluidity” in mobile technology–because miracles can happen

Oral Roberts University has figured out how to use technology to truly transform the student experience

In September 2012, while speaking at a global conference on educational transformation in Toronto, I predicted  that I would witness two computational miracles in my lifetime. The first of these miracles had already occurred. Over the span of just 15 years, I had watched the power of a Cray Research Supercomputer be placed in the palm of a student’s hand via a smartphone. The second miracle, I said then, would come in the next few years: Student information systems (SISs) would be placed in the palms of all students’ hands, allowing them to personalize their educational experience and navigate their own pathways to success.

I had a front-row seat to that first miracle. I started my engineering and computer career at Cray Research and spent 12 years mesmerized by the power of supercomputing while training others how to run and operate such computational power. Next, I worked at Sungard Higher Education, now known as Ellucian, where I watched supercomputing move inside classrooms and eventually to smartphones.

In 2014, I made one more transition–to Oral Roberts University (ORU). The Board of Trustees and president quickly made clear that we had a mandate to use technology to provide the entire world with “whole-person education,” educating students in mind, body, and spirit. Just a few years later, ORU celebrated the grand opening of its world-class, state-of-the-art Global Learning Center. The center will provide mobile connectivity from anywhere in the world to ORU’s whole-person education initiatives and our SIS.

Since then, it’s become clear that the second miracle I predicted has come true: Students have incredible access to all critical academic and campus services through their smartphones. A student at ORU today can use their mobile phone to check the availability of all washing and drying machines–or even be alerted that their laundry is done–while they are studying at Starbucks or shopping at the mall across town. At the same time, an online student in Singapore can watch their course content or review their grades while talking to their classmates or teacher through videoconference tools. A student on spring break in Nigeria can wear their Fitbit and have their health data uploaded to a gradebook anytime their smartphone or wearable watch connects to a hotspot.

(Next page: Focusing on fluidity instead of mobility)

As I look both back and into the future, it’s clear that the miracles I mentioned were made possible by a combination of technological advancements and a deeper understanding of what tools and strategies are most effective to promote student success. Currently, each student at ORU receives a Fitbit and access to our Student Life app provided by OOHLALA Mobile. This allows them to navigate around the campus, while instantly providing access to the SIS, course schedules and class locations, the learning management system, the bookstore’s online ordering system, campus events, and much more.

Fluidity vs. mobilty
What has led to the success of these mobile-first initiatives at ORU? Our academic vice president and provost have challenged the IT department to focus on fluidity rather than mobility. Mobility places emphasis on technology instead of on our people and our mission. Fluidity is about access and adaptability. Giving students and faculty access to mobile-ready services in a seamless manner makes them less likely to stumble over new technology. We believe that any university that masters the fluidity of education and technology will eventually meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

I continue to be amazed at the online-education solutions we have reached in the past three years through a “fluid” approach to mobile technology. I am also amazed at the increased awareness and knowledge of companies like OOHLALA Mobile, creator of the ORU campus app, that understand the challenges and opportunities a campus has to impact the world through mobile applications.

They understand the mobile phone is called “smart” for a reason, and it has become part of the student’s experience on every campus. This approach has enabled them to implement more seamless services and allow students to hold academics, extracurriculars, and communications systems in their hands. This growing understanding and cooperation between vendors and campus IT departments opens the door for a third miracle: incorporating fluidity directly into the implementation of emerging technologies, which will allow us to focus not on the tools themselves, but on how they can transform the student experience.

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