Seton Hill scales the ed-tech integration summit

Colleges have followed Seton Hill's lead in iPad adoption.

Realizing that students today “interact with the world in radically different ways than previous generations,” Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., was one of the first schools in the country to give its students iPads after Apple introduced its iconic tablet computer last year.

But it was Seton Hill’s vision for transforming education through the use of technology, and its focus on staff development to achieve this goal, that led to its selection as our “eCampus of the Month” for October.

Here, Vice President for Information Technology Phil Komarny describes the university’s ed-tech vision and its keys to success.

How does your campus use technology to advance student learning?

We have been committed to using technology to advance student learning since receiving our first Title III Strengthening Institutions grant.

We continue to promote technology integration into classroom instruction through our second Title III grant’s ELITE professional development program for faculty and our Griffin Technology Advantage program for students.

Both programs embrace technology, recognizing that today’s students interact with the world in radically different ways than previous generations.

The ELITE program provides faculty with professional development devoted to maximizing the potential of mobile technologies, iPad apps, and Web 2.0 tools.

Faculty receive MacBook Pro laptops and participate in training throughout the year, exploring ways to expand the classroom beyond four walls and enhance student learning. For example, pre-service teachers develop video documentaries of historic buildings, and our writing-intensive program uses iPad apps—such as Corkulous—to engage students in writing.

Culminating the ELITE program, faculty redesign one course, integrating technology and interactive learning experiences.

The Griffin Technology Advantage program puts a MacBook Pro laptop and iPad into the hands of every full-time student. Students take advantage of electronic texts, such as Inkling, to engage with content.

Podcasts are easily created using Apple’s GarageBand software, giving modern language students a creative presentation platform.

To provide the reliable and secure network needed to fully support these initiatives, we implemented a new wired/wireless data connectivity solution.

Enterasys Networks provided a full-scale replacement of the university’s previous Cisco infrastructure, providing always-on Gigabit Ethernet to each user’s desktop, secure wireless connectivity for mobile devices, and traffic prioritization for seamless voice over IP technology across 25 campus buildings in three separate locations.

Has your campus noticed an increase in student performance and/or motivation? If so, how?

While we haven’t determined definitively that the quality of our student’s work has improved, we can say that the faculty have determined the students are more highly engaged.

The use of iPads and the applications we have implemented have resulted in more active participation and more meaningful discussion around issues. We also have seen a significant increase in contact between faculty and students as a result of the new channels available for communication.

Our faculty are primary to the success of the Griffin Technology Advantage program. They have devoted the time needed to redesign instruction. With their students, they have become co-learners and pioneers in the classroom as they test out the power of this new technology.

With no models to work from, they’ve had to explore, practice, and discover—on their own—the iPad’s potential for expanding learning. Although a few faculty use the technology rarely, and then only in response to student demand, the most enthusiastic faculty report deep satisfaction from the critical reexamination of their course syllabi and excitement about the discovery of new resources available wherever they or their students happened to be.

How does your campus use technology to streamline administration and aid in decision-making? To what effect?

Our mobile environment has given us the tools to access data currently housed in five or six databases—and we can access those data on the fly, in a meeting or not at our desks.

We recently conducted our entire budgeting process online without using any paper, which made the process much quicker. On the IT administration side, we have built a tool that views our wireless controller to determine what access points are being used more than others. Our IT administrators can access this information via their iPads and view the information in a mobile format instead of being logged into a machine.

We’re also using the fingerprinting technology available in Enterasys Wireless. This allows us to determine what types of devices and machines are accessing our wireless network and gives us an easy tool to control access more quickly and easily.

What all this means is that we’ve changed the way we think about things. If we need to make a decision, we now can view information from three or four different schools to see how they are managing something.

We can aggregate data from a number of different databases, such as the NCAA online database, our ID works swipe card system, and Microsoft Great Plains. Our processes have been improved at the top administration level, but changes also have trickled down into the management of residence halls.

For example, our RAs recently developed an iPad app to streamline management of the residence halls.

How has your campus financed its technology initiatives?

In 2008, we received a Title III grant focused on increasing student retention through training faculty and staff in the multiple uses of interactive and assistive technology.

The five-year, $2 million grant has helped fund ongoing technology training sessions, such as use of the iPad as an instructional tool; Web 2.0 applications such as screencasting, podcasting, wikis, and other collaborative tools; multimedia resources such as iMovie; assistive technology tools and resources such as the built-in accessibility features of a computer operating system, popular screen-reading applications, and scan/read devices; and the use of video-gaming concepts to support the instructional process.

What initiative are you most proud of, and why?

The Enterasys network infrastructure has allowed us to provide the backbone our campus needed to embrace today’s wireless devices and Web 2.0 technologies.

Our new campus infrastructure allows us to see all network activity in real time, which means there are no surprise security issues. Also, the Enterasys wireless solution has provided a significant improvement as both student and faculty demand for wireless access continues to grow.

The new network has enabled the university to embrace wireless use, while feeling secure that our users will not compromise the infrastructure.

We’re also just beginning to implement Enterasys isaac, a new technology that gives our IT personnel the ability to use Twitter to troubleshoot and make quick and easy network changes, in plain language (not in arcane system admin syntax), so entry-level techs can do the jobs of higher-level support. For example, to troubleshoot hardware problems (such as problems with the iPads), IT personnel can query the hardware via Twitter on their mobile device without having to be at their desk.

They can get the needed information from wherever they are, allowing our entry-level techs to fix these problems and saving the IT department time and training.

What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges? How have you overcome these?

Technology really forces us to keep current in the classroom in a way that we have not done for many years. The use of technology demands constant ongoing revision of courses and can place a lot of pressure on our faculty.

Providing access to students also has created the obvious challenge of introducing a new possible distraction for them. Finally, there are physical and logistical challenges around balancing accessibility with the campus aesthetic.

We have to make sure we place wireless access points in the right place, while not compromising the campus aesthetic. These two issues are often at odds.

We continue to ponder important questions about iPads in the classroom, such as how to ensure time for integrative and reflective thinking and how to ensure the iPad does not distract from learning.

As a result, we have implemented a comprehensive assessment plan to determine the success of the Griffin Technology Advantage program, including evaluation components of the professional development program and student and faculty focus groups and surveys. We use this information to make continual changes to the program as needed to ensure we are getting the most out of our technology.

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

There are two things that need to be in place to implement a program such as ours. First, you need to have a strong network infrastructure in place, along with a strong and supportive IT support team.

Second, the university faculty need to be brought on board and appropriately trained. There must be strong collaboration among technology and academic leadership, faculty, and students so that as many technology resources as possible can be directed to support the learning agenda at the university.

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