SJR Column: Mobile Devices, August 2013

Students will soon be arriving for the Fall semester on the UIS campus and the image of this annual rite of passage is often one of students (with the help of their parents) hauling all manner of “essentials” into campus housing.  That image will most certainly be part of the scene when our residence halls open on August 21st; but for increasing numbers of students, whether residential or commuter, undergraduate or graduate; the most important item they bring to college this year may be one that weighs only a few ounces and fits handily into their pocket – it’s their mobile device – their smartphone.

Estimates are that over 1.45 million mobile devices are being sold or activated worldwide every day and the digital natives arriving on college campuses this fall know, far better than most of their elders, that their mobile devices aren’t just phones. They are highly capable tools that enable users to always be connected and to have instant access to information and social networks anywhere at any time.  Like digital natives everywhere, most traditional-aged UIS students have grown up with digital technologies integrated into their lives and, according to the Pew Research Center’s recent study of Internet and American Life, they are using mobile devices on a daily basis to access the internet and engage socially via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, and YouTube – to name just a few of the more popular social media networks.

The fact is, mobile device usage influences the college experience even before students arrive on campus, playing a significant role in the college decision process.   The 2013 E-Expectations Report, a survey of college-bound high school students, showed that the vast majority of prospective students have access to mobile devices and that they use those devices extensively in their college search.  According to Munindra Khaund, Director of UIS Web Services,  “Mobile devices are now ubiquitous and mobile computing is part of a wider integrated strategy for UIS – an opportunity to tell the stories of our campus and its students, faculty and staff to multiple audiences, including prospective students.”

Thanks to an exceptionally talented Web Services team, UIS is on the leading edge of mobile applications technology, designing in-house and then launching its own UIS mobile app in October, 2012.  Over 3,000 users have installed the user-friendly UIS mobile app and students are using the app to access information as well as to participate in various forms of social media like Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, with Responsive Web Design the browsing experience for UIS websites is optimized for visitors with mobile devices. The goal is to provide the same content-rich, high-quality experience regardless of the size of the screen.

Though studies continue to show that students have a preference for face-to-face communication with their professors, the “BYOD” (“Bring Your Own Device) explosion is also changing the learning experience of university students. Most UIS faculty, for instance, post their course materials on Blackboard – a course management system that provides a communication hub, providing students online access 24/7 to assignments, readings, quizzes and discussions as well as to a variety of resources off-campus that would otherwise not be available.  Faculty also communicate regularly with their students via email, with mobile devices constantly in use by both students and faculty for those communications.  Students believe that technology is critical to their academic success and that it helps prepare them for the future and they have high expectations that their university will provide the technologies that will have the greatest impact on their success.

Though mobile devices won’t replace that “essential” dorm room mini-fridge or microwave, mobile does matter … and it matters more every day in the university environment.  As Director Khaund says:  “The rapid rate of technological change comes with its own set of challenges and universities must adapt to those challenges quickly in order best serve their students, whatever technology they may use in the future.”

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch