Mobile Applications Case Study
Oklahoma Christian University Improves Its Connections (Cont'd)
I think one of the biggest challenges that universities face today is getting students to tell us how they want us to communicate with them. Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T has made that easy for us to do.”
John Hermes, Vice President for Information Technology
and Chief Technology Officer, Oklahoma Christian University
About Oklahoma Christian University
Oklahoma Christian University Facts
Enhanced communication capabilities to reach students, faculty, staff and parents
Hosted notification system disseminates vital information instantly in whatever way individuals choose to be informed
Enhanced security and strengthened connections among campus communities
More than 2,000 students
Oklahoma Christian University (OC) is a private, comprehensive university emphasizing spiritual growth and career preparation. It’s listed as a Best Western University by The Princeton Review and ranked among the Best Master's Colleges in the western region by U.S. News & World Report. Affiliated with the Church of Christ, OC welcomes all students who respect the university’s commitment to academic and spiritual excellence.
OC is a highly mobile campus whose students carry an average of three different mobile devices. As part of keeping its students safe, the university previously invested in a mass notification solution to take advantage of these devices to share information with students. The solution was difficult to use and, as a result, the majority of students did not opt in to receive notifications. To add to the problem, the notification solution didn’t integrate with campus databases or the university’s learning management system to provide additional capabilities.
Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T enables OC to send large-scale communications about campus events as well as more targeted communications specific to students’ courses and activities. The system integrates easily with university databases and the online learning management system, and offers a variety of ways to send messages to reach the greatest number of constituents on their terms.
Faith, Scholarship and Service
Since 1950 when the university opened as Central Christian College with fewer than 100 enrollees, OC has grown into a comprehensive university of 2,000 students working to “transform lives for faith, scholarship and service.” Its accomplishments and recognition have grown as well. OC’s students have experienced more than a 95 percent medical school and graduate school acceptance rate over the past two years. The university’s Arts & Design department has received recognition from The Princeton Review for its gaming and animation programs, and the National History Honor Society has named OC “Best Chapter” of all U.S. universities with 3,000 or fewer students for 16 straight years.
I like the fact that our solution is hosted externally but still easily integrates with our existing systems."
John Hermes, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Technology Officer, Oklahoma Christian University
The university encourages students to put their education to good use to make a difference in the world. About 60 percent of OC students work in mission-related activities in the U.S. and abroad, and every summer more than 500 students and faculty take time off to work in a mission field. Students also participate in social service organizations, sports and clubs related to their major.
John Hermes is OC’s Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Technology Officer and a proud alumnus; he believes the emphasis on the whole student is the foundation of the university’s success. “For a traditional university to be successful these days, you have to provide co-curricular activities,” he said. “We think these are as important as the work students do in the classroom. We stress ethics and teach students that every aspect of their lives is important, not just the academic part.”
Connecting Campus Communities
Technology has long been an essential aspect of the OC education. More than a decade ago, the university became one of the first in the nation to provide every fulltime student and faculty member with a notebook computer. OC has had a campus-wide wireless network for several years and thus has eliminated the need for computer centers. Today students also get their choice of smartphone or tablet. The devices provide ubiquitous connectivity to the university network and the Internet from almost everywhere on campus. The University works exclusively with AT&T for the deployment and purchase of designated smartphones.
Hermes credits Executive Vice President Dr. Bill Goad, a former CIO at OC, with nurturing the university’s progressive technology stance. “He is a visionary who has sought to improve learning, strengthen communication with students and engage our campus constituents to better connect alumni and parents to the university,” Hermes said. “Not only is it about providing laptops to students – it is putting tools in place that will connect everybody together more easily.”
Part of the strategy involved launching a campus portal that lets students schedule classes, check grades and much more. Parents can use the portal to add money to students’ meal plans or view their schedules; with students’ permission, parents can also check their grades.
When officials wanted to strengthen campus security, they naturally turned to technology several years ago, investing in mass notification solution to inform students of any potential dangers. The prior solution was difficult to use, though, so only about a third of students opted in to receive notifications. To add to the problem, it didn’t integrate with existing campus databases or the university’s learning management system that would allow for expansion of any further capabilities. OC wanted a better way to communicate with its constituents.
Messaging across Multiple Platforms
Now Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T connects OC students easily so they can receive large-scale communications across a variety of mobile devices. “With one system we can send messaging through Facebook, email, texts and Twitter,” Hermes said.
Students no longer have to log in and sign up – they simply tell the university how they want to receive notifications and the university enrolls them. As a result, OC can now reach 90 percent of campus users. “The ability for us to know we reached the intended audience is huge,” said Hermes. Students can add multiple contacts in their accounts so their parents can also receive messages.
OC considered a number of products before choosing Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T. “I think one of the biggest challenges that universities face today is getting students to tell us how they want us to communicate with them.” he said. “Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T made that easy for us to do. It gave us more flexibility so students could choose how they want to receive messages.”
Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T meshes seamlessly with OC’s existing infrastructure and its active directory, the campus authentication system. “We’ve been impressed not only with how quickly the system can be turned up with very little effort, but also by how simple it is for students to use,” he said. “We got it up and running in literally a day or two, which was a big advantage for us.”
The fact that it was a fully hosted solution was important, too. “Paying a vendor to manage operations allows my staff to focus on things that are more critical to us,” he said. “Having someone else take care of the system is one less burden on our staff.”
Almost as significant, Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T integrates easily with the learning management system that professors use to post documents and grades, make assignments and even administer tests. “Students can choose to receive information via text message or email if something new is posted in any course,” Hermes said.
The university has also subscribed to the EyeWitness feature which allows anyone on campus to anonymously report a crime or inappropriate behavior via texting. “We haven't had any tips come through yet but we think it’s going to be helpful as we move forward,” Hermes said.
When Time is of the Essence
Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T enables OC to define precisely the audiences that will receive its messages. “We will soon enable student organizations to use the Groups capability to create their own distribution lists,” Said Hermes. For instance any of the social service clubs sanctioned by the university will be able to create and manage a group by themselves. Professors also plan to utilize the Groups functionality to allow students to communicate with members of their classes and faculty.
Hermes has created his own group to communicate with his large IT staff. “We have 18 full-time employees and 24 student workers spread across campus,” he said. “If there is a system down a message will go to the group to let everybody know that there is an outage so we are not all fighting to fix the same problem.”
Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T also enables OC officials to prepare messages for later use. “That way we can quickly send an alert from any mobile device when time is of the essence and we have to move quickly.”
More Services at a Lower Cost
OC’s commitment to investing in technology has drawn attention from other schools, including K-12 school systems that want to develop similar programs. Hermes finds it easy to recommend Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T.
“I tell institutions that are looking at a messaging system that flexibility and integration are important,” he said. “I like the fact that our solution is hosted externally but still easily integrates with our existing systems.” This means that the university’s IT staff doesn’t have to spend hours wiping out and recreating its database every semester. “Now as enrollments change throughout the semester students are automatically added or dropped from the system,” he said.
Hermes considers Rave Campus Messenger from AT&T to be a good investment. ”We are able to provide more services at a lower cost with simpler integration and management,” he said.
Unique Solutions for Demanding Situations
“AT&T is especially good at helping us find solutions that fit our unique, sometimes difficult needs,” he said. For instance, while some people believe students want everything through text messages, OC has found that its students want to compartmentalize the notifications they receive from the university – some want text messages for alerts but want to get assignments or grades by email. “AT&T helped us learn how to customize student communications, which has been important to us,” Hermes said.
Technology has changed greatly from the early 90s when Hermes was an OC student. “We weren’t able to do many of the things we do today,” he said. But the important things, like OC’s mission-driven education and the commitment of its faculty to be accessible to students, have not changed.
“What makes us unique is that the students and faculty communicate easily, whether it’s face to face or through technology,” he said. “It’s a good community of learning, where the faculty is concerned not just about your grades but about you as a whole person. And technology has made that a little bit easier.”