Have Phone Will Travel

Everyone on campus, from facilities to administrators to professors to students, has a cell phone. Your age and tech savvy determine whether this tool is just a safety net, your lifeline, or something in between. What do cell phones on campus mean for schools and that tried and true revenue stream — the residence hall-based land line?

“The land line is dead,” insisted Dr. Ed Chapel, vice president for information technology at Montclair State University in New Jersey.“As long as a student has a signal and a charged battery they are going to use their cell phone every time.” Carmine Piscopo, telecommunications manager, Providence College in Rhode Island, agreed.“Billing back students for long distance calls used to provide a good revenue stream,” he said. “Now it costs money to provide that service.”

While residence halls at both schools still have land lines for safety reasons, Piscopo estimates that, at Providence College, “about five percent of students actually bring an analog phone and plug it in.” This leaves communication literally in the hands of the students. Cell phones brought from home, often as part of family plans, must be accommodated. Ironically, accommodation may add to that depleted revenue stream. “Right now we lease space for two cell towers on campus,” said Picopo. “My goal is to lease to all four of our local carriers. The money amounts to about half of what charging for land lines brought in, but it’s better than nothing.”

Learn Smarter
Montclair State decided to meet cell phones head on. Four years ago they began an ambitious program that gave all 16,000 students a cell phone. This phone becomes an information system, teaching tool, and support connection for the mostly commuter campus. While not required to use the school-provided phone for their cell service, “most students eventually do,” reported Chapel. He credits the plan’s market competitiveness, which is a partnership between Rave and Sprint, for that.

Envisioned as a portable information kiosk and virtual student-in-residence experience, students do much more than chat on this phone. Chapel reports that typical student usage is as such: At 6:30 a.m., student checks the blackboard for assignments and events. She then scrolls over to the cafeteria menus and checks when the next bus is arriving. While on the bus, student again checks events and assignments. Then the texting begins.

“We encourage students to form groups and text each other,” said Chapel. “The phone also has a GPS built in so students can find their friends easily.”

That GPS also works as a built in safety net. A student who feels unsafe at any moment can activate a timer. If the timer is not turned off within a set period an alarm rings at campus safety headquarters. Someone then calls to make sure the student is alright. If no one answers campus police receive a display of the student’s location, recent photograph, and local address. The phone also displays pertinent health information like allergies or chronic conditions. Because it uses the same GPS technologies as E911 emergency centers, students can use it on- or off-campus and anywhere in the United States.

Professors and administration can also send out mass text messages, reaching their students quickly. Assignments, class changes, and other announcements are just a click away. Even weather can be accounted for. “We had to close the campus twice this winter because of the snow,” said Chapel. “The phone system made alerting the students easy and quick.”

This is just the beginning of the program. Chapel envisions adding features like the ability to check availability at the computer lab. “During finals season the lab fills up,” he said. “This will let students know if there’s a computer available before they come down.” An innovative parking plan is also in the works. “Students come and go at around the same time every day,” explained Chapel. “If we can hook up a student leaving a parking spot with a student looking for parking that would be an innovative use.”

With Montclair paving the way, other schools are signing up for this Sprint/Rave partnership. “Beginning in the fall semester of 2006, students at Allen University in South Carolina and University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) incorporated similar programs for their students,” said Craig Carroll, national director of education sales, Sprint. Carroll sees other academic uses for the phone as well.

“Teachers can use the phones for a polling device to track how students are receiving the lecture,” Carroll continues. “If students are getting the material they push one, if they need a little help they push two. If they are totally lost then they push three. This instant feedback helps the professor keep on track and connected to the class.”

Work Smarter
The polling feature is sure to improve the bell curve. Cell phones in the facility department are another way to improve productivity. “Facility departments expect workers to do more with less,” said Carroll. “Devices like PDAs, phones with GPSs, and walkie-talkie features help accomplish that.”

For instance, instead of coming to a central dispatch area, collecting jobs, and going out to fulfill them, workers can receive orders on the PDA, go the job, send for parts, ticket the job, and move on to the next one. “By using the GPS, dispatch can send the closest person to an emergency situation — or maybe not the closest, but the person who knows the system best,” said Carroll.

Because all of the data from a job is captured electronically, productivity is tracked and analyzed seamlessly. By partnering with companies that offer computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), the PDAs can manage and ticket jobs easily. Training even becomes easier with this technology. “Instead of training each worker on each piece of machinery, a person can download step-by-step instructions on how to fix a problem,” said Carroll. “They can then view it in real time while they’re on the job.”

And get everything done better.