eCampus of the Month: Abilene Christian University

ACU gives iPhones and iPods to its 4,700 students.

Abilene Christian University (ACU), long a leading advocate for the use of web-ready mobile devices in higher education, is taking its tech savvy to K-12 schools, where students are becoming familiar with the ins and outs of tablets such as the Apple iPad.

ACU’s commitment to mobile technology has earned the 4,700-student institution the distinction of being eCampus News’s first eCampus of the Month, an award given to colleges and universities that push for more advanced and efficient use of educational technology, establishing national models for small and large schools alike.

Three students from ACU’s Teacher Education Department recently partnered with a local kindergarten teacher to introduce mobile devices to the class and document students’ familiarity with common mobile technology terminology such as “apps” and “upload.”

ACU education students helped the kindergartners develop digital stories using mobile devices, while observing the children and how they used each learning tool.

“We quickly realized that most, if not all, of the children viewed the iPod touch as just a way to play games,” said Jody Reese, a kindergarten teacher at Taylor Elementary School in Plano, Texas. “As they worked with their ACU students, they began to realize there is technology available beyond just these games.”

ACU officials said working with Taylor Elementary students was just the start of a larger initiative to partner with local K-12 schools. ACU students picked to work with elementary students will be given a “cart of iPads” to use in their work with youngsters, according to an ACU announcement.

Mitzi Adams, coordinator of field experiences and professional development for ACU’s Education Department, created an iPad math application that will be used by elementary students this spring.

“It is our hope that our students will become leaders for innovative practice on their future campuses,” said Dana Hood, Teacher Education Department chair at ACU.

Kevin Roberts, the university’s chief planning officer, said education officials’ use of mobile learning devices on campus demonstrate how universally accepted the tools have become among ACU faculty and students in recent years.

“[Mobile learning] has so ingrained itself in the different cultures in the different departments in the university,” he said. “And that’s indicative of how flexible and usable this technology is.”

Using grant money for mobile learning

ACU on April 12 was awarded $250,000 in Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) grants, doled out by a host of organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, EDUCAUSE, and The League For Innovation in the Community College, among other groups. NGLC is a $20 million grant program.

ACU’s mobile learning initiative, known as Connected, will use the grant money to demonstrate the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs at two institutions, Del Mar College and California University of Pennsylvania.

Both colleges have low-income student populations that have a high risk of dropping out of school before finishing a degree program, according to ACU’s announcement.

“To provide new methods of learning to students who otherwise would drop out or fail is precisely the foundation of ACU’s mobile learning initiative,” said Dwayne Harapnuik, director of faculty enrichment at ACU.

ACU will use the grant over the next year and a half to integrate mobile learning tools into courses such as biology, zoology, and botany.

Last May, ACU received a $1.8 million award from AT&T to build Connected, a studio for mobile learning experimentation and a K-12 professional development program that trains teachers to use education technology devices such as eReaders and internet-ready phones.

This wasn’t the first time AT&T partnered with ACU. The phone giant and Alcatel-Lucent helped develop the university’s Wi-Fi internet network several years ago.

AT&T also gave $1 million to ACU in 2007 for the computer infrastructure in the school’s Bob and Shirley Hunter Welcome Center.

The wireless network powers the thousands of mobile devices—mostly Apple iPods and iPhones—that ACU has doled out to incoming students in recent years. The school pays for the mobile hardware, while students pay for the monthly AT&T service plan, according to ACU officials.

ACU began its Mobile Learning Initiative in 2008 when the school gave about 1,000 incoming freshmen the choice between an iPhone and an iPod Touch to be used for streaming educational videos and recorded lectures, among other uses. About 700 freshmen picked the iPhone, the university reported.

Making mobile products such as iPhones and iPods a central part of student and faculty life at ACU, Roberts said, is the kind of initiative that challenges IT officials into embracing a new role on campus.

“It’s scary as a CIO to feed over the control of handheld devices on campus. There are all of these demons of times past when IT was a controlling central hub of all technology on campus,” Roberts said. “Those days are gone, and we have to learn how to make peace with that. … The faster we embrace that, the better it will be for our students and faculty.”

(Editor’s note: To nominate your school for our eCampus of the Month honor, go to

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