By Michael Freeman, Managing Editor
ACU raised eyebrows last February when the university announced it would distribute iPhones and iPod touches to its incoming class of freshmen. In fact, it raised eyebrows from every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica.
More than 350 magazines, trade publications, newspapers, blogs, television stations and news Web sites have published articles about ACU’s Mobile Learning Initiative.
“It’s just unbelievable the amount of publicity we’ve gotten from this,” said Lynne Bruton, director of public relations. “Now saying that, it’s not all positive. There are some negative pieces. But really, we’re getting our name out there. And the more you get your name out there, even though people are saying negative things, we’re still being perceived by our peer institutions as a leader in mobile technology.”
Some of the national news organizations that have reported on the initiative includethe New York Times, the Wall Street Journal Online, Business Week, Yahoo!, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes.com, MSNBC and CNBC. The news also has reached the Sydney Morning Herald, the Taipei Times Online and Kronen Zeitung (Austria’s largest newspaper).
“It’s nothing short of amazing,” said George Saltsman, director of the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning. “It’s really exciting to have people know ACU. I hope it plays out with students and faculty and anyone that’s involved that when you go in for an interview they’ll say, ‘ACU-that’s a really progressive school. Y’all are doing some amazing things out there.'”
Other universities have contacted ACU about the initiative to learn how they can implement similar technology at their institutions.
“There’s not a week that goes by when the phone rings or an e-mail says, ‘Hey, I’m so-so from suchand-such school and I’m really interested in what you’re doing,'” Saltsman said. “That’s nationally as well as internationally.”
Some schools already followed ACU’s example in mobile technology. The University of Maryland handed iPhones to 150 of its students. Oklahoma Christian University distributed Macbooks and the choice of an iPhone or iPod touch to its students, and Freed-Hardeman University gave its incoming freshmen a Mac-Book, a choice of an iPhone or iPod touch and both Mac OSX and Windows Vista operating systems.
“I hope that it correlates to people knowing who ACU is and having a favorable impression about us being a very innovative and academically strong campus,” Saltsman said.
Companies also advertised ACU’s leadership in mobile learning. Google, AT&T, Al-Catel Lucent and Xythos are a few of the corporations that reported on the initiative.
Even with all of the publicity, there still remain questions on how well the Mobile Learning Initiative will work.
“Since we’re the first ones to do this, everything is unknown,” Saltsman said. “We’ve got a challenge to create a culture of appropriate use.”
The first wave of media attention happened in February when ACU announced the initiative; another came in August when the mobile devices were distributed to the freshman class. ACU expects to see more coverage at the end of the semester, Bruton said.
“People are watching us,” Bruton said. “Everybody is waiting to see if this will really work. Is this really of educational value? I’m confident we’re going to be able
to say, ‘yes’.”