Southern Illinois University: Empowering Students with Windows 8 Tablets and Office 365

By David Crain, CIO, Southern Illinois University

When I joined Southern Illinois University in April of 2012, our chancellor’s stated goal was to become a leader in providing higher education technology that would make a difference to our students. As the university’s first CIO, I took the challenge of modernizing our infrastructure and delivering a mobile computing platform and online productivity tools to students to improve learning outcomes and make a difference in their lives. I selected Microsoft as our strategic IT partner to help accomplish these goals. We’ll be deploying Dell Latitude 10 touch-enabled tablets running Windows 8 for freshman students under a program called “Mobile Dawg.” We’ll also be migrating approximately 30,000 student accounts from Google Mail to Microsoft Office 365 online communication and collaboration tools.

Providing a tablet for freshman students is key to improving learning outcomes at Southern Illinois. We are an “access” university, serving students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds: more than 45 percent of our students come from first-generation college families. Many of these students show up for class with no idea they have to buy textbooks, nor can they afford the approximately [US]$1,000 required to purchase them. Also, we are a top research university, offering robust undergraduate research programs. The Carnegie Foundation ranks us as among the top 5 percent of public US institutions for research. To support both these missions, we believe that Windows 8 tablets preloaded with digital textbooks, course materials, and Office 2013 will give all our students the tools they need to achieve their personal best in all areas of campus life.

In the end, it was an easy decision to go with Windows 8 tablets over the Apple iPad. First, iPads wouldn’t run Pearson electronic course materials that use Adobe Flash technology, and we are heavily invested in Pearson products. And when we did a TCO [total cost of ownership] analysis between the two platforms, Windows 8 on a Dell tablet was clearly more cost effective—over four years we calculated up to a $4 million savings going with Windows 8. The tablets offered 50 percent more processing power and 100 percent more RAM for the money, they are more robust and will last longer, and they come with a better warranty than Apple offered. Windows 8 tablets have better technical features, such as a USB port, they are HDMI-compliant, and they have a port replicator so we can use them in our labs with keyboards, mouse, and monitors. Unlike iPads, Windows 8 tablets run full-scale applications and we can plug them into our existing Microsoft management and security tools to easily maintain them in a way that’s consistent with our policies.

A quick note about both the iPad and Android device market: as an institution preparing students for the widest possible set of experiences they will encounter in public and private sector settings, Microsoft Office functionality is a fact of life. Our arrangement for providing students with a high-quality device and a full Office suite of tools, with extended warranty, high availability, and low-cost support made this decision very simple.

Additionally, we are really excited about the potential for Windows applications. Microsoft, Dell, and Intel were generous in contributing funds to help us develop more than 30 apps and we have hired students to work with Dell consulting to get those ready for the August 2013 school year. Everything from customizable calendars for campus events, to multimedia classroom presentations, to dining hall schedules and menus, to laundry facilities, to 911-security and GPS-based mapping—we are going to have a host of different apps that will add to the campus experience for our students.

In conjunction with the Windows 8 tablet initiative, we are also moving students from Google Mail to Office 365 because it offers so much more: email, instant messaging, and online collaboration tools. We now have wireless access across campus. Armed with their tablets and online access to everything they need for learning, we are excited to see learning outcomes improve for our 2013 freshmen. And the students are excited about the devices and the fact they’ll be saving more than $300 on textbooks and other materials. We have been promoting the tablets at student orientations this year and the students are lining up 10 deep at the table to get their hands on the new devices. Windows 8 and Office 365 are significant steps forward in our journey to education technology excellence.


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