6 Key Traits Guiding the Latest Higher Ed VisionariesA new generation of technology leaders in higher education is emerging – individuals who are successfully exceeding the expectations of today’s mobile and tech-savvy students. These students have never known a world without cell phones, and grew up using mobile technology in such a way that it has become second nature to them.  But at Seton Hall University, IT leaders are helping students learn to use smartphones to engage in the community like never before.

The evolving horizon for CIOs was a major point of conversation at the 2012 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in Denver last week, where I had the opportunity to learn from two University leaders working to reinvent the college experience through mobile technology – David Middleton and Dr. Michael Taylor, directors at Seton Hall’s Center for Mobile Research and Innovation (CMRI).

These gentlemen embody key traits held by this new generation of education IT leaders and advisors:

  • Informed on the latest technology
  • Engaged in exploring and testing emerging trends
  • Committed to advancing research in mobile learning and its academic impact
  • Vested in helping students transform from technology consumers to professional users
  • Skilled at partnering with industry leaders, as Seton Hall did with AT&T, Microsoft and Nokia
  • Dedicated to advising and collaborating with other university IT experts on best practices and lessons learned.

During their break out presentation at the EDUCAUSE conference, Middleton and Taylor shared the value of corporate/academic collaboration, and what can happen when all parties look beyond short-term roadblocks and drivers (such as new product timelines and sales objectives) to uncover the bigger picture.  By helping on- and off-campus stakeholders explore the “art of the possible,” CMRI leaders were able to take from ideation to deployment their proposed expansion of the University’s mobile device program in a very short time.

And by bucking the frequently discussed bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend in favor of more traditional deployment models, the University was able to standardize on a single smartphone and operating system platform.  By leveraging Windows 8 for all mobile devices on campus (laptops, tablets, and smartphones), Seton Hall has simplified faculty training requirements while ensuring a consistent user experience for students no matter which device they have in hand.

Mobile technology meets the real world

Beyond his efforts to provide Nokia Lumia 900 smartphones to every freshman on campus, Dr. Taylor also leads a group of senior environmental science students as they use Nokia Lumia 900 smartphones to gather research at Duke Farms, a public environmental center 30~miles from the South Orange, NJ campus.

For their capstone project, these seniors are creating a proposal to recommend mobile technology tools (i.e. apps, digital scavenger hunts, etc.) the Farm can use to improve the educational experience for visitors. The goal of the project is to provide students with an opportunity to apply the benefits of mobile technology in a real world setting.

With smartphones in hand, students rely on the AT&T network to survey visitors about the purpose of their visit to Duke Farms, their participation in activities, and feedback on suggested changes.  Learning is taking place miles away from the University – in a real-world setting where Dr. Taylor can still have a real-time view into students’ work and data collected at the center – all because of mobile technology.

Sharing insight into the value of this learning experience, Dr. Taylor remarked, “

Having used smartphones as a teaching and learning tool since 2008, the conventional wisdom of incoming students as expert or proficient users of mobile technology is not always correct. While students tend to be dynamic consumers of Internet content and social media, these skills do not automatically translate into academic and professional use.”

Toward innovative thinking

This type of mobile learning experience can influence students greatly, as 80 percent have expressed interest in teaching at a K-12 level following graduation in May 2013. Teaching approaches as seen in Dr. Taylor’s capstone project are what will help future teachers think innovatively when guiding their own students.

And stories such as this show why it is increasingly important for IT leaders to be at the forefront – implementing mobile technology initiatives that can create memorable and engaging learning experiences for future professionals.

Seton Hall University is one example of how universities are using mobile technology.

How has your IT team implemented mobile learning initiatives to engage students in and outside the classroom?