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10/25/2012
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iPad University: IT Lessons From College Pilot

At Long Island University, iPads are changing the way information technology is managed and applied.

iPad Mini Tablet: Visual Tour
iPad Mini Tablet: Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
In fall 2010, Long Island University began a pilot program to distribute Apple iPads to incoming students and faculty. For CIO George Baroudi, the initiative has been a resounding success, though there have been surprises.

"We brought 'bring-your-own-device' to a new level," said Baroudi in a phone interview.

Incoming freshmen are given iPads at no cost, while graduate students and part-time undergraduates can purchase the devices at half price, $250. These tablets belong to the students, so students are advised to visit a nearby Apple Store to resolve problems. That means less of a support burden for LIU IT staff. To date, the initiative has reached about 10,000 students and educators.

Baroudi said that students are using the devices everywhere, to access Facebook from campus lounges, for example, or to access the school's Blackboard Web app for homework.

[ Huawei is trying to address security regulators' concerns. Read Huawei Proposes Security Test Center. ]

"The students are using them like crazy," he said. "The faculty hasn't quite adapted to the fact that the world has changed."

While some faculty members are using iPads and mobile phones in their classrooms for things like app development or digital media creation, moving away from desktop workstations, Baroudi said most faculty members have not used it to enhance pedagogy. However, he believes that will come in time.

The killer app, Baroudi said, is textbooks. But because the textbook industry and the publishing platform players like Apple and Amazon haven't agreed on a standard, he said there hasn't been a migration of textbooks to tablets yet. He likens the situation to being at Cape Canaveral as a rocket prepares to launch: You can hear the rumbling but liftoff hasn't happened.

Many current students, he said grew up with traditional textbooks. He expects in a few years that won't be the norm.

One challenge LIU confronted as it moved forward with its iPad initiative was wireless network provisioning. Initially, LIU set aside $160,000 for network infrastructure upgrades. But wireless network demand quadrupled and the university is now setting aside that much annually, specifically to continue boosting wireless capacity.

Baroudi said that despite his initial expectation that students would be able to rely on the iPad for most needs, they still end up using a variety of other devices, mainly mobile phones and laptops.

"The side effect was a congested wireless network," he said. "We had to expand it much more than we thought."

Security concerns haven't really changed as a result of the initiative. What problems there are mostly affect desktop systems, Baroudi said, pointing to students, faculty, or administrators who install software on Windows PCs or Macs, or who set up poorly configured SQL servers. Mobile devices, he said, haven't been an issue, nor has Google Apps, the school's cloud platform. Theft of iPads, he said, hasn't been an issue either, though he notes that the devices do get dropped or lost on occasion.

"Five years ago, students would walk in with a virus and beg to have it fixed so they didn't lose their homework," he said. "Now all of that has stopped. Today, they want the DHCP lease time to be longer than 24 hours, so they don't have to login every day."

Baroudi said IT support and security oversight is changing as everything shifts to mobile. He said it requires a different skill set. It's less about logging in, editing Windows registry entries, and removing unwanted software, and more about providing guidance and education. You can't stop people from buying software for their own devices, he said, but you can warn them about how social networks are using their information and about how online posts are never deleted.

Baroudi stressed that his job isn't about being totally open, but about finding a manageable level of openness. The consumerization of IT, he said, "has altered the way we protect the institution tremendously because we have to allow more openness. ... We're more into compliance issues, in protecting students' and employees' data."

"Instead of building a firewall and being like the Soup Nazi [from Seinfeld] so you can say, 'No,' you do it in a different way," he said. "You normalize it by joining them, figuring out what they need, and educating them. Instead of being a geek in a basement creating access controls on a Cisco router, you participate."

One way to do that is to support the creation of mobile apps. Last year, for example, Kiichi Takeuchi, a graduate student in Earth science at LIU, created iSeismometer, an iOS app that uses the accelerometer in mobile devices to collect seismic data. He has collaborated with other students and faculty and has helped create the My LIU Web portal, which provides students with access to maps, news, school schedules, and personal account information, and a Wi-Fi intensity map, which provides network administrators with information they need to improve wireless signal coverage.

Baroudi said his organization uses enterprise deployment to distribute LIU apps. "We encourage all students to create their own applications, because writing code is becoming so easy," he said.

Characterizing himself as an optimist, Baroudi said that IT professionals have to adapt to the mobile world. He likens the dynamic nature of IT to the way language changes over time. "We have to move forward and realize there is a revolution in IT," he said.

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