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Blackboard Delivers Mobile Learning to the University of Cincinnati
By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor
Mobile learning is an important focus for universities today hoping to make the most of the advancements in mobile technology. As students have followed the same mobile trend as consumers, educational institutions need to be able to communicate and transact through channels students will actually use.
With an enrollment of roughly 35,000 students, the University of Cincinnati (UC) is one of the largest universities in the United States. Fred Siff, CIO of UC started with the university in 1998 and when he compares the feel of the environment now to what it was when he first began his role, he refers to it as a different century.
“When I began, IT was already making a difference in the ‘back office’ of the university,” Siff said. “But we were only starting to consider the difference that IT could make in the classroom. But even then, we knew this was not the way students wanted to learn and faculty wanted to teach. It became incumbent on our institution to offer an effective solution beyond traditional course management or risk offering the community a lesser form of education.”
To help overcome the IT challenges within UC, Siff put together a blue-ribbon faculty committee. The members were charged with making a recommendation on how UC could move from its homegrown course management system. After one year, the recommendation was to do nothing. Siff asked the committee to review the decision again the following year and this time, they found Blackboard.
The UCit team jumped on board with Blackboard (News - Alert) as they could gain access to solutions that would help with both teaching and learning. The Blackboard Learn system was rolled out by selecting 50 faculty members to participate in a pilot program. The program was so successful that demand for its solutions was outpacing availability. The initial pilot group found that the Blackboard solution provided them with multi-featured way to communicate with students, both in and out of class.
While the committee and the UCit group did a great job of reaching out the faculty members, students needed to have input as well. Siff noted that for a long time, UC felt its primary Blackboard customers were faculty members, but ultimately the system consumers are students. To reach out to them, every recognized student organization received its own Blackboard organization site. A polling option also captured student input.
“The undergraduate student government has really begun to use Blackboard software to make sure we’re as efficient as possible,” said James Radley, the university’s student body president. “The Blackboard polling option gives us an opportunity to poll students and receive immediate feedback on things we’re working on. It also gives us some hard facts we can present to the administration.”
Blackboard has truly penetrated the culture at UC. In fact, 90 percent of students and two-thirds of faculty now rely on the system each quarter. IT can monitor how many classes have content within the Blackboard system and how many times students are accessing that content. The UC has seen an exponential rise.
Students and faculty are also taking advantage of the Podcasting Building Block that easily uploads recorded lectures to the system. UC is also leveraging the system to deliver its new emergency notification system. Students with a Web-enabled phone can opt in to receive a URL link embedded in a text message to view any changes in a course. And, looking ahead, the UCit team is searching for new and innovative ways to leverage the Blackboard offering.
“Student focus groups have told us that they want automatic notifications when something changes in their courses,” said Siff. “They also want the student government portal to port to their mobility devices. Running the Blackboard system on integrated PDAs, cell phones, laptops and tablets is the future,” Siff explained, “so we’re starting now.”
Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard