January 23, 2013

SIU launches campus-wide tablet initiative

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is launching a Mobile Dawg program this semester, and officials say the cutting-edge technology will provide students with significant learning and financial benefits.

The pilot phase of Mobile Dawg involves 300 students receiving Dell Latitude 10 tablets.  Included with the tablets are digital textbooks the students need for some of their classes.  Faculty volunteers are pioneering the Educause/Internet2 eText Pilot project with 13 class sessions using the textbook technology this semester.  

Classes using the new technology include sections of University College, along with courses from the colleges of Applied Sciences and Arts, Business, Liberal Arts, Mass Communication and Media Arts, and Science.  The classes range from required first-year core courses to upper level courses to Honors classes.

“This program will have a very positive impact on our students,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.  “They will benefit financially through the use of e-textbooks and they will connect more with campus life. Most importantly, we are confident the students’ use of the tablets will contribute to their academic success.”

The University has partnered with Microsoft; Dell; Intel; and Internet2, an e-textbook portal, to create and customize the program for SIU students.  A $200,000 investment from Intel and Microsoft assures that the customized tablet computers have the applications and texts the students need.

“Technology is central to the academic and campus experiences of our students,” Provost John Nicklow said.  “Being the first comprehensive research university to launch a large-scale, campus-wide tablet initiative that focuses on student success lets our students know that we are doing more than just highlighting cool hardware, we are working to revolutionize their experience at SIU.”

Research indicates that using e-textbooks and tablets improves student learning.  David Crain, assistant provost and chief information officer, cited studies indicating that 90 percent of students who own tablets believe the computers improve their educational experience.  Surveys indicate that many students don’t obtain all of their traditional assigned texts, he said.

The e-textbooks also cost a fraction of what print texts cost, officials said.  According to the FinAid website (www.finaid.org/questions/textbooks.phtml ) it is estimated that the average annual cost of textbooks in 2013 will be about $1,190.  The University can provide a tablet PC and electronic texts for about $30-$50 per class.

The tablets will interface with and/or supplement various other campus and online programs and initiatives including Student Self-Service, Desire2Learn, SalukiNet, wireless Internet, electronic textbooks and other digital/multimedia content.  The students can also use the online tablet applications for:

•  Residential life and dining (dining hours, menus, residence life programming)

•  Athletics (event-streaming, calendars)

•  Classroom and instructional technology (clicker applications, audio and video recordings, note taking, surveys, quizzes, assessment, homework, collaboration, assessment, placement tests)

•  Campus events and activities (streaming, event calendars, notifications)

•  Campus safety (emergency notification, access to police and reporting capabilities)

•  Virtual desktop initiative (access to all applications, data and documents students need without having to visit a computer lab)

•  Social media

Using the tablets and digital textbooks is convenient, easy to read, easy

to carry and less expensive, officials said.  There will also be docks in existing labs so students can connect their tablets to printers, keyboards and monitors. 

For the pilot phase of the program there is no cost to participating students for use of the tablets and e-texts.  Plans call for all new first-year students to receive tablets and e-textbooks beginning with the fall 2013 semester.  University officials will evaluate the entire program and determine if they are using the correct tablets, programs, applications and software prior to finalizing plans for the fall semester.

SIU is setting itself apart as a leader in this area.  Although tablets computers and electronic texts are becoming more common in K-12 education, universities are slow to follow the trend. The goal is to have the e-texts for all of the core curriculum freshman classes by fall.  The Mobile Dawg program, which plans to phase the tablets into use, will also be a valuable recruiting and retention tool, as the majority of today’s high school students say technology plays an important role in selecting a college.

Currently, the tablets, fully insured for four years against everything except theft, fire and loss, will be on loan to students.  There is a possibility in the future that students can retain ownership after a certain number of years.  The goal is for SIU to be the first research University to provide tablets to all students and fully integrate the tablets into campus life.