Pioneering Mobile Learning

ACU’s Optimist leads the way in student innovation as it is the first student-run newspaper to be available for Apple’s iPad release.

The Optimist, ACU’s student newspaper, will be the first collegiate student publication to take advantage of Apple’s latest technology, the iPad. An interdisciplinary team of student and faculty researchers and developers in the departments of Journalism and Mass Communication, Art and Design and the school of Information Technology plan to have the Optimist ready for the iPad by April 3.

“Mobile technology is advancing so fast we have to somehow to keep up with how our readers are reading. It is really encouraging to know you are investing you time in a project that is very similar to what you will be doing when you graduate,” said Colter Hettich, Optimist editor in chief and senior journalism major from Abilene, Texas.

Educational Innovation

ACU is the first university to commit to developing for the iPad, leading the way in student development for digital publication. Students involved with the project met together for a two-day planning retreat to discuss, collaborate and develop their ideas.

“Working on an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty was very productive. I was impressed with the innovation each discipline brought to the table. Student media at ACU has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to delivering news so developing for the iPad seemed like the natural next step,” said Dr. Susan Lewis, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication.

Student team members will enter their work on the project into ACU’s undergraduate research competition.

Initial Planning Meeting Initial Planning Meeting
Design students Casey Rogers and Brian Havens, SITC students Randy Beard, Brittany Knight and Rich Tanner, consider ideas for the Optimist iPad application with journalism major Colter Hettich and New Media Manager Scott Kilmer.

A Collaborative Effort

At the retreat, the Optimist staff decided how they want the paper to function on the device, deciding that the overall structure should be something that will work for students. Optimist editors plan to utilize the new platform to deliver a more converged media experience to the ACU community and beyond. It will work in conjunction with the print, online and iPhone-friendly versions of the Optimist.

“These two factors: clear communication and proper tools have provided ACU, and specifically the JMC department, a very unique opportunity to be a national forerunner technologically,” said Kelsi Williamson, junior photojournalism major from Albuquerque, N.M. “The iPad Optimist publication will provide the university and the world with a tangible way to interact with and improve on the innovative mobile communication.”

Student and Faculty Partnership

Collaborating with one another, the interdisciplinary team of journalists, programmers and designers, are learning how to take part in the larger national conversation that is translating print media to the new medium of digital publication for the iPad.

“The team meets regularly to work through the challenges associated with creating an application for a device none of us has actually held yet,” Lewis said.

Brainstorming Form and Function Brainstorming Form and Function
Faculty member Kenneth R. Pybus, J.D., spent time with students discussing the functionality of the Optimist iPad application.

Future of Media

The Optimist staff is meeting frequently with the designers sharing ideas on how they want the paper to function, while designers then communicate with programmers asking them what is and is not possible to do on the iPad. Dr. Kenneth Pybus, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication and Optimist adviser, said one of the goals of the project is to participate in the ongoing industry-wide conversation about how mobile devices should work for readers.

“The iPad and devices like it have the potential to revolutionize news consumption,” Pybus said. “People have been reading news on the Web for a long time, but it’s a sterile medium and it’s no substitute for the newspaper. The iPad gives back to readers news they can touch and interact with physically, so it’s the best of both worlds.

Most important, said Pybus and Hettich, is the goal of training students for technologies that are yet to be developed.

“The JMC department’s No. 1 priority is to equip students with the skills and tools we need to succeed in the field,” Hettich said. “The Optimist’s commitment to being the first student-run newspaper available on the iPad is a natural result of that priority.”

The iPad is the third version of innovative mobile media delivery pioneered by the JMC department. Intially, a Web version of the Optimist was optimized for mobile delivery, followed by a faculty and student intiative to program a proprietary Web and mobilized format.

Listed below are links to some of the national press coverage ACU and the JMC department have received on this venture.

U.S. News & World Report

The Unoffical Apple Weblog