Lessons Learned As Submitted by the Presentors----


Jennifer Bolt, Director of the Institute for Teaching & Technology, Acadia University


1.      The real advantages of mobile computing are the empowerment and increased confidence of students.

There is an assumption that the exposure to the technology and resulting technical literacy of our students were primary drivers behind our initiative.  While these are certainly important benefits, they are not the primary ones that are of interest to employers, nor are having the most positive impacts on student success.  It is, rather, the sense of confidence and empowerment that students assume when they are given resources to do new things.  The entrepreneurial spirit that they discover, in the process of learning in new ways and having access to new tools, has had a profound impact on how our students are directly contributing to the process of educational transformation through their involvement in instructional design projects with faculty.


2.   The opportunities to enhance the learning environment through mobile computing are far-reaching and go beyond improving academics.

At Acadia, we focused most of our resources and efforts in the mobile computing project on the academic world with a deliberate attempt to transform the delivery of education.  That has been an important but difficult task and the results of our efforts are in some cases positive, and in many cases questionable.  Far easier, to both accomplish and measure, are efforts aimed to improve student life through the mobile computing program.  Enhanced communications for students and alumni, access to multimedia development facilities, administrative services to make tasks more convenient – these all have an undeniable positive impact on students and are relatively easy to accomplish compared to educational transformation.


3.      Some of the most impressive positive results were unanticipated; some of the expected positive results were not achieved, therefore a tolerance for failure and an environment that values innovation are necessary.

An English student was given access to the School of Music’s digital recording studio and, with the help of technically capable students, made a recording of a song he wrote using software on the notebook.  He burned a CD and got some great radio play ….and launched a music career.  A history major received an international award nomination for instructional design on her learning program that was created for an environmental science professor.   A geology students got a great job offer from a mining company when they discovered her new application of mapping oil deposits using a graphic arts software program which saved them thousands of dollars.  Meanwhile, test scores on physics exams went up marginally after implementing an expensive and carefully planned technology assisted learning environment. 


4.  Pioneer institutions get lots of opportunities to do exciting things that are unrelated to the mission at hand….we must make a conscious effort to “stick to the knitting”.

Opportunities to earn external revenue have been compelling, particularly given the expense of the technological appetite that our mobile computing program has created.  All, however, come with a series of commitments and activities that can divert limited human resources from the very activities responsible for the success that attracted the external opportunity in the first place.  Some financial incentives are far outweighed by the investment required in preparing to do business and the potential impact these have on the academic culture (e.g. intellectual property issues, community and vendor relationships).


5.      We needed to plan to be in “do” mode and “research” mode simultaneously.  Early efforts on implementation resulted in a loss of opportunity to do baseline evaluation that would have been tremendously valuable for ongoing research.

Now, four years into the implementation of the mobile computing initiative, we are attempting to recreate the Acadia Advantage story.  We have some good baseline research that began with an all-campus survey issued to students that has revealed some interesting changes in perspective about the impact of technology on learning.  There were, in hindsight, many more interesting baseline data that should have been gathered.


6.      Expectations must be managed and there are many unrealistic expectations that come with technological change and mobile computing.

We oversold the program to students and created an expectation that the technology would be used all the time in class.  Despite efforts to change this message, the original expectation still holds.  We also attempted to give students and faculty free dial-in access – not financially possible given the appetite for high bandwith applications and our geographical location.  Our faculty support groups provided very special and individual attention to early adaptors in the initial phases.  Now we work with three times as many faculty, but can still be perceived by some as offering more limited services.




Larry Bryant, Director, Academic Computing, U.S. Air Force Academy

  1. Maintenance of the student computers can either "make or break" your plan

Students cannot afford to be without their computers for more than 24 hours; therefore, you must have loaners, spares, or parts shelves capable of repairing all computers quickly.  Confidence in this system is reflected in how many problems the students do NOT get repaired because they do not want to be without.  Also, plan for surges at the beginning of each semester.

     2. Common platforms for all students and faculty offer many advantages, such as:

--Ease of hardware and software maintenance

--Ability to test programs on faculty machines before giving them to students.

--Ease of sharing machines and resources between students, such as wireless cards, NICs, etc.

  1. Disk imaging is "the way to go" - I wouldn't consider it any other way!  Prepare a “master drive image” with all of your campus licensed software correctly installed, then have the computer vender image all your machines.  I recommend partitioning the hard drive into at least two partitions—system and data.  This allows you to quickly restore all software without touching the student’s data.  It also allows you to upgrade software and provide new images annually which can be made available via the network or CDs.  Trouble-shooting software problems should be limited to 15-30 minutes—if not fixed in that time, then just perform a complete restore.  (Students obviously lose their unique software, but at least they get a working machine quickly.)
  2. Be prepared for students to try anything on your network.  Have policies ready BEFORE, e.g. filtering, packet shaping, firewall, proxy, etc.  How do you handle the few who misuse or abuse their network privileges?  How do you handle cell phones or microwaves which interfere with wireless networks?  What are your legal restrictions, and how do you protect yourself from lawsuits when students misbehave?
  3. Do NOT look for best desktop or notebook price at constant specifications, or even best machine for a fixed price.  Look for “best value” by fixing a ceiling price, and asking for the best machine the vender can provide for under that ceiling.  You don’t want the cheapest machine that meets the minimum specifications.  This allows the venders to concentrate on their strong points and use any excess funds in the budget to upgrade weak areas.

6. Unless you have unlimited funds (ha!) avoid the temptation to jump on popular bandwagons too early.  The more limited your funds, the more conservative you must be—wait for firm standards which will drive prices down.  (e.g. wireless investments)  Notebooks and wireless may be popular, but is the increased cost worth the marginal utility gained?



Jan Biros, Associate Vice President, Information Resources and Technology, Drexel University 

  1. In order to leverage limited support services and enable users to do more for themselves, we have made an extensive effort to put as many services as possible on our website.  This enables users to take care of many of their problems or issues without requiring personal service.  Examples of some of the services we have web enabled are:
    1. activating all computer related accounts and managing those accounts-activating shell access—as soon as students are accepted and in the student administrative database they can  take care of this

b. reserve computer classrooms, sign up for workshops

 c. submit trouble tickets for help desk attention

 d. online photo class lists for professors and automatically create mailing lists for students with one click

  e. check grades, change addresses, check personnel benefits check financial aid and bill status, register for classes, check transcripts

f.    carefully documented directions for many technical problems and issues so when help desk assists someone, they can leave user with a URL that they can refer to later if then encounter same problem or forget the solution


  1. In order to expand staff in cost effective way we have established a formal, well developed training program for student employees to make effective use of that potentially valuable resource.  In addition to providing adequate training, it is also necessary to provide high quality supervision for students to both ensure that they will deal effectively with users and have a valuable learning experience for themselves.  This helps to build a cadre of students who continue to work over time and can be relied upon to do higher levels of support over time.  We also use students a great deal with web development projects and in many cases they have skills or experience with tools that staff do not and end up teaching them.  We have set up an online clearinghouse where students can register and list their skills and interest in working with faculty an faculty can search to identify students who are willing and able to work with them on technological projects, websites or other projects.


  1. Promote and facilitate greater communication on campus related to technology issues, changes, policies and such.  It is necessary for the IT staff members to communicate among themselves so that infrastructure changes are known by support staff and can be conveyed to the user community.  Email can work for many of these items but it is also good to have regular meetings to get all groups within the computing area to discuss problems, solutions and the ramifications of various options or scenarios.  Often technical operations staff make changes or implement things based only on their own perspective and do not consider how it will effect users or if alternative solutions may be easier to support, implement, and communicate.  We also try to bring various departmental tech support staff together as well to discuss licensing issues, hardware changes and such.  In addition, we have established an online newsletter which goes to faculty and staff every other week with information related to technical changes, opportunities, policies and such and each article, while brief, has an associated url containing more details and information.


  1. We have found it increasingly necessary to provide ongoing training for professional staff, both internal and external.  Because cost of commercial training is so great, we do it seldom and usually for software/systems which effect the entire community.  For more specialized topics we rely extensively on internal training and staff who have developed special expertise in certain areas prepare 1.5 –2 hour training sessions for fellow staff members.  We reserve a block of time each week when everyone is free for the trainings and usually have a couple per month.


  1. Regardless of how long faculty have been involved in integrating technology into their courses, they still require extensive support to take advantage of new technologies and new software applications.   We provide a Faculty Development Center with lots of specialized hardware (scanners, CD burners, video editing etc) and software as well as staffing it with both technical staff and academic staff who can assist with instructional design and course reengineering issues.  We also provide frequent opportunities for faculty to share what they are doing and problems they may be having (brown bag lunches) and each term we have an event for faculty dealing with academic technology integration.


  1. We have found it beneficial to reorganize support staff more by skills and specialties and to assign them accordingly.  This includes having specific staff assigned to support specific “mission critical” offices and have them housed there 90% of their time.  They remain our staff members and have offices in our area, attend all staff meeting and trainings but spend all of their time at the remote site working with users there.   We have created specialty work groups within our larger group (web development and support, hardware, administrative support) and those groups each have a leader and meet regularly to biweekly to stay coordinated and keep projects on track and moving forward.



David G. Brown, VP and Dean (ICCEL), Wake Forest University


1.         Graduates prefer obsolete computers. When given an opportunity to buy the computers to be provided to incoming freshmen, graduating seniors opted to keep what they had without upgrading.  This has serious implications for our strategy of providing distance-learning courses for alumni.


2.         Pilot Year is essential.   Faculty and students will forgive miscues.  Systems need testing before redundant old systems are abandoned.  Introducing innovation is even more time-consuming than sustaining the innovations once introduced.


3.         Project Manager.  Professional project management is essential, especially during the start up phase when over 200 separate projects need coordination.


4.         The 80/20 Rule.  Our most effective courses are hybrid. They are somewhere between 80% face to face and 80% virtual.


5.         Communication is central.  Our research shows that 87% of the faculty and students believe that their learning has increased because professor-student and student-student communication is so much better. 


6.     Use a commercial Course Management System.  We had our own and couldn’t afford to keep it up.



William Peterson, Professor of Mathematics

University of Minnesota Crookston


  1. Development of effective academic uses is essential.

In order to justify the significant student fee associated with laptop computers, students expect to see appropriate and valuable uses of the computers in their classes.  Uses need to be developed to noticeably and substantially improve the student learning experience.  The emphasis should be on incorporating uses of technology which allow faculty to do a better job in less time.  In many cases, the faculty time spent in developing the application should be less than the time saved in using the application.  The extras such as email, chat groups, registering, checking grades etc. are nice but do not justify the expense associated with laptop computers.


  1. It’s not about you – it’s all about the student.

Everything from policies and procedures to educational materials need to be considered from the student point of view.  Students need to see the reasons, value and advantages associated with using laptop computers.  It needs to be clear to students why this provides a better educational experience and a better preparation for future jobs and for the rest of their lives. Students need to understand the technology fee and what they are getting for that fee.  Support services such as a help desk need to be in place. In addition, students can provide a tremendous resource in making a laptop computer program successful.


  1. Instructional support for development is critical.

Providing a laptop computer for everyone is relatively easy.  Developing good educational uses of those computers is far more difficult and requires extensive faculty support through some type of faculty instructional technology center.


  1. Set the technology fee high enough to support the program.

Students will support the fee when they see the benefit.


  1. The infrastructure to support the laptop computers is essential.

This includes such items as a student help desk that provides assistance, loaner machines when needed, classroom equipment, the campus network and servers,  high speed Web access and off campus access.  Without a reliable infrastructure, educational uses may become more frustrating than valuable for students.


  1. Reliability is a key factor.

To utilize laptop computers effectively means that in many cases the computer will become a primary instructional resource more important than (and in cases even replace) the textbook.  Students then need reliable and convenient access to those instructional materials.  In order to achieve reliability, it is necessary to have a good working relationship with the vendor.




John L. Oberlin, Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


1.                  It’s nothing new, it’s just a commitment to do things well. 

Prior to the Carolina Computing Initiative (CCI), the vast majority of faculty, staff, and students used computers.  However, the lack of technical standards and a management atmosphere where every department was an island contributed to an environment where systems simply didn’t work well, connecting and configuring systems was difficult, and support was impossible to scale.  Under the CCI, making our computers communicate and work well became the priority.  The question of “if” we were going to make a campus commitment to using information technology evolved into a culture where the question was “how are we going to do this well.” 


2.                  Things that were previously thought to be unmanageable become possible. 

Prior to the CCI, it was thought to be impossible to adequately scale central help services, implement viable wireless networking in classrooms, implement large-scale enterprise file systems, deliver campus-wide course management systems with automatic population of courses, or develop campus-wide problem tracking and resolution systems.  Today, all these things are in place and managed centrally.  The benefits of imposing ubiquitous computing standards are clearly evident by the viability of these new services. 


3.                  It doesn’t integrate technology into the curriculum, it only makes it possible. 

Ubiquitous computing programs make it possible for faculty to integrate technology into the curriculum for the first time.  The program only enables this activity by individual faculty members.  For the first time, faculty can count on all their students having access to campus IT resources.  This allows faculty to make commitments to developing and using IT that they were unwilling to previously.  IT systems and support are now viable.  The equation of how much time faculty can invest in integrating these new resources into the curriculum has shifted to the better. 


4.                  It doesn’t solve everything, but it does make everything better. 

Implementing the CCI did not solve all of our problems, it did however make many things better.  More computers work well, connect to the network, and actually communicate reliably with information services than ever before.  Thus, faculty, staff, and students use them more in their respective endeavors.  Computing is cheaper, more viable, easier to support, and less frustrating.  Change comes more easily, and optimism is rising. 


5.                  The most important implementation committee is the communication committee.

Any commitment to implement a ubiquitous computing program must begin with a commitment to communicate early and often.  In the absence of good information, it is possible for bad information, rumor, and false assumptions to dominate. 


6.                  Developing the support infrastructure is more difficult that technical infrastructure. 

Making individual computers viable in the hands of end users is a key component of any ubiquitous computing initiative.  Faculty, staff, and students need computers they can truly count on, and a support environment that addresses individual computing problems as mission critical.  Support needs to be around the clock, very timely, and highly effective.  Delivering on this is both the reward and the bane of ubiquitous computing programs.