Does Being Mobile Enhance Social?


by Phil Komarny


Seton Hill University has a reputation for being an early adopter. Consequently, I’m often asked about the relationship between social media and mobility. What follows is a short chronicle of Seton Hill University’s journey through the adoption of both social media and mobile technologies and a brief explanation of how each directly supported the adoption of the other.

Going Mobile

In 2010, not twenty-four hours after Steve Jobs introduced the iPad to the world, Seton Hill University became the first institution of higher education to announce that it would be issuing an iPad to everyone on campus. (Yes, everyone.)

We launched this initiative with a simple tweet: “An iPad for Everyone.” But that one tweet quickly gained momentum, trending on Twitter at the rate of 1,100 mentions per hour. Within seventy-two hours “An iPad for Everyone” had been mentioned on Good Morning America and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and on Wired, Huffington Post, blogs, and websites all over the world.

Has this been done before? Sure, thousands of times, with different types of devices (e.g., tablet PCs) and varying degrees of success. The key difference with our implementation was introducing users to mobile computing using the iPad as the consumption device. Until 2010, there was no technology that accomplished all of the following: 

  • Gave the user a feeling of personal ownership (and responsibility) 
  • Required very little to no training to learn how to use 
  • Had more than ten hours of battery life 
  • Could join a network instantly
  • Had a built-in software delivery model 
  • Provided developers with tools (and a marketplace) to extend the platform

What most of the world thought was a shrewd marketing ploy (or an April Fool’s joke) actually turned out to be the icing on the cake of a well thought-out mobile strategy and, more importantly, the catalyst for Seton Hill’s transformation into a campus that leveraged social media.

But if the iPad was the icing, then what was the cake? It is a fairly simple recipe—one you might not find on Pinterest, but simple nonetheless. Take one part infrastructure, add a sprinkling of access points, fold in gigabits of bandwidth, and wrap it all into a professional development program that teaches the foundational concepts of Web 2.0. The result, eloquently stated by Seton Hill’s president, JoAnne Boyle: “By embedding mobile technology into a rigorous learning environment, we, as educators, are not only providing students with unimpeded access to all the world’s learning, we are also supplying them with the tools to create new ideas, new art, new horizons.”

The technology program implemented on Seton Hill’s campus in the fall of 2010 was built on an infrastructure that we began constructing the previous year: 

  • The entire network was replaced with Enterasys hardware from core to edge, facilitating a mobile learning environment. 
  • More than 300 wireless access points were installed, creating a completely untethered experience. 
  • Internet connectivity was increased from 25mbps to 1gbps. 
  • We launched a two-year plan to remove all computer labs. Instead, each student was issued an Apple MacBook Pro and an iPad on the Sunday before classes started.

To accommodate all of these hardware changes, we also reengineered almost every administrative policy to leverage a consumerized IT model. This gave us the ability to embrace the iPad, a device some colleges and universities saw as disruptive and some even banned from their networks due to some fairly serious DHCP issues.

So this was the perfect storm that landed on Seton Hill’s campus: a next-generation network, a completely wireless campus, tons of bandwidth, a trained faculty, a social community portal, and a device that would connect all of it with just the touch of a finger.

Going Social

One of the keys to explaining this process, and to the ultimate success of the transformation, lies in understanding the relationship between social media and mobility. When I think about social media, I think of the obvious: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and the like. But I also consider our campus portal, Griffin’s Lair, to be social media. Each day, every Seton Hill student, faculty, and staff member logs into Griffin’s Lair to interact with information in a collaborative environment. In my view, collaboration in an online environment, in this context and construct, equates with social media.

Griffin’s Lair is a cloud-based campus portal that serves as a single point of authentication for accessing our various cloud-based resources. Although single-sign-on is fairly prevalent in most of today’s enterprises, it was critical to ensuring the widespread adoption of the campus portal. When a member of our community logs into our portal, they are simultaneously logged into Google Apps for Education, Gmail, ZenDesk, Moodle, and other specific user-based resources. Users log in once a day, from anywhere in the world, and are granted immediate access to everything they need to succeed.

Since the inception of our mobile initiative, Seton Hill’s faculty, students, and staff have worked collaboratively to create a social campus that integrates cloud-based applications, podcasts, videos, wikis, tweets—seemingly every educational resource the digital universe can provide has been woven into the fabric of the Hill. In the classroom, in the halls, on the quad, in the dining and residence halls, in the laboratories, and in the performing arts center—even in the stands at football games—the Seton Hill community continues to discover new ways to leverage mobile technologies to discover, create, communicate, innovate, learn.

This connected learning environment allows faculty and students to communicate more fluidly and more often (24×7). Students are able to ask questions and make comments outside the bounds of a particular exercise or assignment, which encourages learning among students and faculty, as well as creating a broader audience for collegiate and scholarly work among friends, families, and potential employers.

In the past twenty-four months, more than 100 applications have been introduced to our community via our campus portal. These applications are all purpose-built to leverage our wireless campus through a mobile interface. By creating mobile interfaces that aggregate data from multiple data stores, we have created a more efficient way to work and, ultimately, a better experience for everyone.

One of the first social applications we implemented was a simple class roster with photos, which gave faculty members the ability to send out academic alerts to other professors and instructors, to see if they had the same students in their classes or to locate a student’s advisor. The previous process was arduous, to say the least. It consisted of logging into multiple systems, jotting down information (in this case, the other faculty members names and email addresses), writing and sending emails, and hoping that all the information you were going to disseminate to others would be received in time to positively affect the student’s progress. The result was a process that was never fully adopted and never really helped students.

Now, on our social campus, when a faculty member logs into the portal, they have a quick view of all the classes they are teaching and how many students are in those classes. By touching a class, they can instantly alert all associated staff and faculty about an at-risk student. This socialization of student progress has created a more engaged student support staff and increased our retention rates.

*    *    *    *    *

By using the iPad as our mobile interface and pairing it with our social methodology, we have unlocked our community’s creativity by creating a social portal that promotes collaboration, aggregates data from all of our campus’ enterprise-level data stores, and delivers it through a mobile interface. At Seton Hill, we’re social because we’re mobile.

 

Phil Komarny, vice president and CIO at Seton Hill University, has served as the catalyst for initiatives that have positioned Seton Hill as a leader in strengthening learning through the use of mobile technology. Under Phil’s leadership, Seton Hill is transforming the way faculty teach and the way students learn. In addition to providing daily support for the university’s entire technology infrastructure, Phil leads the development of new software and website applications and helps manage the institutional use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and podcasts.

Tag(s): social media, byod, mobility, mobile device support, technology

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