by Michael Bratten
Del Mar College
The technological tide is turning at Del Mar College, and advancements in the last year amount to a full-blown sea change. The objective: Give today's tech-savvy students what they need when they need it – and make it available on whatever electronic device they may be using.
The College took the first step toward this technological revolution a year and a half ago by directing the Information Technology Department to put College resources at students' fingertips.
"They asked us to maximize high-tech and high-touch, with the no. 1 goal being access to Del Mar College," said August Alfonso, Chief Information Officer at the College. "We know students have the devices. We want to allow them to use our resources. This is a major change."
Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, is the infrastructure behind the change. It isn't so much a technology as it is a guiding principle aimed at making academic activities possible on any device 24/7. Any student with a browser, whether on a smart phone, tablet or laptop, has access to the College.
BYOD's inception paved the way for a succession of forward-thinking projects. Viking Net, a wifi network designed specifically for students, enables them to surf the Internet, check email and do anything else online with their own device while on campus. (The Viking is the Del Mar College mascot.)
"I use it for entertainment and to do research for my classes," said Hilliary Herrera, 20, a nursing education major, as she browsed Viking Net on her tablet. "It's very useful when I can't get to a computer."
Academic activity and mobile technology merged in August 2013 with the adoption of the Canvas learning management system, which allows interaction in a user-friendly, online environment with a social media feel. Users can download the mobile app, and students can submit assignments and communicate with their classmates and instructors. Alfonso calls it mobile learning.
"It's self service," he said. "Students can practically complete a course with this."
Recently, the College upgraded its telephone system to better manage calls from people asking
general questions, which increase exponentially at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters.
Dedicating additional staff to answer the calls wasn't feasible. The dilemma turned into an opportunity, and once again, interactive technology was the solution. Using their own device, students can now just Ask the Viking.
Accessible via a button on the College's home page (www.delmar.edu), Ask the Viking goes beyond the standard Frequently Asked Questions feature. It is regularly updated according to users' questions. More than 90,000 inquiries have been answered since its launch in August 2013.
The College has invested about $184,000 in Viking Net, Canvas and Ask the Viking, Alfonso said. More projects are in the works, such as a scholarship app. The College's web server, located 140 miles away in San Antonio, will soon be migrated to the cloud. Eventually, students will be able to apply, register and pay for classes on their mobile device, Alfonso said.
But the most far-reaching project is the 78415 initiative. Set for a soft launch this summer, it will make wifi service available in the ZIP code with the highest number of the College's students – essentially expanding BYOD and Viking Net. There are 1,318 students from the ZIP code enrolled at the College for the spring 2014 semester.
College President Dr. Mark Escamilla strongly supports the project because 78415 is an underserved community where economically disadvantaged students don't take online access for granted. The infrastructure for wireless connectivity already exists through a network that emanates from City of Corpus Christi facilities, light poles and intersections with traffic lights.
The City, seeking ways to upgrade the network for residential and municipal use alike, is enthusiastic about partnering with the College.
"We have a mission to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Corpus Christi and this fits directly into that," said David TreviÃ±o, the city's Information Technology Program Coordinator and Network Manager. "It's going to benefit all residents of the ZIP code. The applications that can use public wifi are practically unlimited."
Once 78415 is launched, the College hopes to grow the project to all the communities it serves. Alfonso expects the cost to decrease proportionately with the number of students in other ZIP codes.
The College's technological advances wouldn't be possible without progressive thinking by its President, Executive Team and other stakeholders, Alfonso said. Like him, they see the writing on the wall.
"Mobile learning is upon us," he said. "Our students are dictating this. The institutions that provide mobile access will be the successful ones."
Del Mar College, in Corpus Christi, Texas, was founded in 1935. More than 50,000 students have graduated from the College, and more than 22,000 credit and noncredit students in the Texas Coastal Bend are served each year. In-district tuition costs $1,169 per semester for a full course-load.