Abilene Christian University says handing out iPhones to its entire first-year class in 2008 has improved interaction between students and faculty members. That students use the devices so much for academic purposes, the university says, proves that the move was not just a way to get the Texas institution noticed—though it certainly doesn’t mind grabbing headlines.
In a report as shiny and user-friendly as the iPhone itself, the university provides page after page of evidence that it says demonstrates that the iPhone program works. First-year students, all 957 of them, received either an iPhone or an iPod Touch last year, as did about 1,000 members of this year’s incoming class. Students in last year’s class reported using the devices for academic purposes nearly once a day. Student approval of the project stayed fairly steady over the course of the year.
“If this didn’t have a whole lot of substance, you’d see initial positive response and then a fall-off,” said Phil Schubert, executive vice president at Abilene Christian, in an interview. “But the survey showed just the opposite. It showed a high level of positive feeling towards the experience.”
Does positive feeling mean better teaching and learning? Mr. Schubert adds that it’s too early to collect enough data to understand how giving out iPhones improves education. Student testimonials in the report, however, highlight easier access to professors. One savvy student says having an iPhone means he’s less confused in class.
“My professor will ask a question about something and I don’t know what it is, but right here on my phone, with just one touch, I have Dictionary.com, I have a Wikipedia app—I can look it up,” said Tyler Sutphen, a marketing major. “I know what they’re talking about, because it’s right there.”
Several national and international news outlets covered the program when it was announced in early 2008. Some critics questioned how giving students iPhones would help them, saying the program was instead a marketing tool for Abilene Christian. Though the report highlights the educational value of the program, it also devotes several pages to reprints of articles about the program, includes a list of national and international news outlets that have covered it.
Greg Jackson, vice president for policy and analysis at Educause, which supports the use of information technology, said that using the iPhone program to draw attention to Abilene Christian might also advance its educational mission. If more people know about the university, more high-school students will apply, which means it could have a stronger pool of students to select from. “And that’s a good thing,” Mr. Jackson said.
You can watch a snazzy video about the report here.