Publicity stunt, gimmick, or ploy? You Decide! - Macenstein

Publicity stunt, gimmick, or ploy? You Decide!

Abilene Christian University first university in nation to provide iPhone or iPod touch to all incoming freshmen. And there’s probably a reason for that.

I’m sorry… I am all for schools adopting the latest and greatest technology (especially Apple’s) but this has the words “publicity stunt” written all over it. I’m not sure giving away a $400 gadget these days is enough to boost enrollment numbers, and odds are you either want to go to Abilene Christian University or you don’t, but when looking at the iPhone/iPod touch program, you cant help but question its usefulness. Duke University did a similar thing with iPods in 2004, pre-loading “school calendars and other information” on 4th gen iPods in a fairly transparent attempt to grab headlines, but it looks like ACU is trying hard to pretend their program will be useful.

Freshmen will use an iPhone or iPod touch to receive homework alerts, answer in-class surveys and quizzes, get directions to their professors’ offices, and check their meal and account balances – among more than 15 other useful web applications already developed“, said ACU Chief Information Officer Kevin Roberts.

Ok, let’s take a look at those important features. First, getting homework alerts. Frankly, I’m not sure what those are. The term “homework alerts” sounds very urgent, and like something designed to convince parents that today’s education system moves fast, and if your child is not equipped, he will be left behind. You simply gotta have instant access to those homework alerts! Right?

Assuming you go to class, you either know you have homework or you don’t. In my illustrious school career, never was there any additional emergency homework-related information that had to be passed out to me once I left the classroom. But if something hypothetically DID come up (suppose we were doing report on the assassination of JFK, and our professor discovered who the “real” killer was, thus throwing the whole assignment into jeopardy), this seems like something that could easily be done via e-mail (and perhaps that is actually how these alerts are passed out, as SMS messages wouldn’t work on a touch). So, is using an iPhone or touch to retrieve these “alerts” really necessary? As Roberts points out, “93 percent of ACU students bring their own computers with them to college“. This means nearly everyone at the school has readily available, WiFi enabled (and e-mail checkable) portable devices with them already. The touch can’t use EDGE, so these alerts will only reach students in WiFi friendly locations where they would likely have their laptops with them. Or worst case scenario, they could wait an hour or two and find this alert waiting for them when they get back to their dorm room.

The second important feature the iPhone and touch will bring to the educational process is “answering in-class surveys“. We used to call this “raising your hand“. As for “taking in-class quizzes“, well, I’ve had my iPhone for 8 months or so, but I can tell you right now there’s not a quiz alive I couldn’t do faster on paper.

Third, we have “get directions to their professors’ offices“. Are you kidding me? Here’s a Map of the campus. Learn it, you’ll be there for 4 years.

Fourth, “check their meal and account balances“. Only the fattest of students would need constant access to their meal balance, and quite frankly those students should have to walk somewhere far to get it. Again, this is a gimmick.

Well, those are the four “big” features ACU touts as reasons you would need an iPhone or touch to have a successful educational experience on campus. Of course, they mention they have “15 other useful web applications already developed“, so lord only knows (especially at this university) how useful those will be if these 4 are the ones they are most proud of.

Again, most students (and more importantly, the tuition-paying parents of those students) may not see ACU’s throwing another $400 on top of an already high tuition bill as something that will impact their bottom line, but trust me, there is no such thing as a free ride when it comes to adding technology to the classroom. Rumor has it that the 7% tuition increase at ACU this year is not from the iPods and touches, and that the university got a grant to fund the project (possibly from Apple?). But odds are, free or not, the amount of time and money needed to buy these devices, deploy them to students, create the web apps, train teachers and students on how to use them, train teachers on how to code and upload quizzes and surveys so the devices will appear useful, and hire additional tech support people to maintain the devices will be reflected on the tuition bill in a number far greater than $400. Maybe the purchase of the gear isn’t related to the 7% increase, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the back-end is.

In my opinion, this program looks to be falling into the trap that many schools have – trying to shoe-horn in technology for the sake of technology. Most programs like this are spearheaded by a “visionary” dean, principal, or superintendent who has read something about some rich Colorado school district somewhere that has handed out free laptops and WiFi to the entire district, with “amazing results”. Perhaps I am overly sensitive as our neighboring school district implemented an “iBook for every student” program for the middle school 3 years back, which has inflated property taxes significantly, and now the town is seeking an additional $1.5 million to keep it going (this is not to say it is the choice of iBook that is the problem, just a lack of realistic planning for what happens when you give 400 11 year-olds a laptop to bring back and forth to school everyday). It’s nice when educators envision their school being a pioneer in the world of technological educational innovation, but its also nice to have an actual plan for how these technology will be used.

If finding the office of your teacher on campus requires using a web app, you should not be in college.

13 Responses to “Publicity stunt, gimmick, or ploy? You Decide!”
  1. The Cos says:

    I’m going with “gimmick”, as they spent some time creating some web apps. I think a publicity stunt or ploy would just have been to hand the things out.

  2. Angela says:

    If it’s such a good teaching tool, why do only the freshmen get them?

  3. Eliakim says:

    Well, when I looked through the video they supplied, it is, indeed, a very useful tool – because it’s the way I use the iPhone, as it is, with me, right now.

    I use the mapping feature to get to one place or another. I’m out and about and I want to find where another store is or how to get from here to there.

    And, the homework alerts, I have all sorts of “homework” for myself (that I assign for myself) and I do put reminders down, either in the alarm function or the calendar function. Both work very well for me and they do keep me on track for what I have already decided to do.

    As far as checking meal and account balances – gosh, I’m on my banking site all the time, double-checking the account, what has been charged and what the balance is. So, this is just another type of methodology for doing what I do in the “outside world”, while they are checking financial things like that in their “inside world” on the campus. It is their world for a few years and a self-contained community (as I well know from having been “on campus” in a college town for a few years myself).

    Now, as far as it being a “gimmick” or a “publicity stunt” as someone was saying in the comments, well a lot of people were trying to say that about the iPhone when it first came out, that it was nothing but a high-priced toy and would produce nothing useful. And I knew – to the contrary (from what I could see) that this was not the case. And my actual use of it has proven it to be very useful and very productive for me. So, many people who say that are merely “grousing” because they didn’t have it or are not getting it.

    As far as being a “teaching tool”, I don’t think it’s been presented that way (from what I can see). I think it’s merely being presented as a device to help students in the many different facets of campus life and classes and communications – all related to all the various things that the students do on campus, which includes the educational part of it. And also, it’s a very easy way for the professors to stay in touch with the students and also to have students warned about important things (let’s say like a Virginia Tech type of thing), almost instantly from the professors and/or administration, not to say anything about keeping up or in touch with last-minute changes in meetings and/or classroom assignments.

    I see it as a very progressive school willing to put forth the effort to benefit the students in all facets of their campus life and education, by means of the very progressive device of the iPhone – which is a revolutionary device (as I well know from my own usage of it).

  4. Dave says:

    The comments about meal tickets are pretty much out of line. The first few implementations of this sort of systems are going to be a little malformed or impractical. But if you never start you will never really know if the application (checking your accounts online) will be used. If this wasn’t a Christian university would you have provided such vitriolic commentary?

  5. MonkeyT says:

    Actually, I have seen an implementation of an in-class participation system (not this one obviously) and the results can be pretty impressive. By removing the “I must call attention to myself” aspect of raising your hand, its far easier to get discussion going, and to get a direct feel for how many people have a real clue versus how many are trying to hide that they don’t understand. It’s not effortless on the teacher’s part, but it’s not hard to get some tremendous results. Is it enough to justify this? I dunno. But it is a useful technique and it is inevitably coming.

  6. grammar checker says:

    Just a thought … Perhaps a ‘Touch’ or iPhone might have helped you and your editor in reviewing the article …

    … but trust me, their is no such thing as a free ride …

    Try using “there” instead.


  7. Dave,
    Yes absolutely.
    I criticize everything. Did you detect an anti-Christian slant here?
    -The Doc

  8. Marcus says:

    Doc, I stopped feeding my lions last week in anticipation of all those fresh christians you promised. Looks like you’re a man of your word!

    Can you let me know when I should start the attack on christmas? I’m surprised we’re starting the attack already. It seems to get earlier every year doesn’t it?!

  9. Marcus, you fool!
    Now we’ve completely lost the element of Surprise!
    Looks like we’ll have to forget the War on Christmas, and focus our forces on our War on Easter. They will not have time to mount a proper defense!
    -The Doc

  10. Marcus says:

    Let’s not be hasty Comrade. I paid a fortune for this kevlar-lined santa outfit and it would be a real shame not to get some wear out of it.

    And anyway, I LIKE chocolate eggs….

  11. Justin says:

    I actually attend Abilene Christian University, I am a junior and will not in the near future be getting the iPhone. Many of the questions you all have raised are the very same questions current students are asking. My initial reaction was less than enthusiasm, but I must say after talking with some of the professors who are trying to start the program, it could be a very good tool to further education at the institution.

    A few things: Unlike laptops, iPhones take up little room and do not have a screen that creates a barrier between the teacher and the student. Well, I am upset at the tuition increase, the increase was decided on more than a month before the iPhone thing took off. Also, with regards to the Duke program, I believe they just gave the iPods to students and expected them to use them for studies, but here the iPhone will become a critical peace to the learning experience. And lastly, the program is starting with only freshmen because the classes are more generalized and therefore better for working out glitches in the system.

  12. Greg says:

    A totally agree with Eliakim and Justin. The movie make a very compelling case. I encourage you to watch it first and then pass judgement on the gimmick aspect of the plan. I think they are really on to something with this.

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