New phone program: Big Brother is calling

By on February 22, 2006

Quinnipiac students will soon be able to do much more than text friends and take pictures with their cell phones. They will also be able to figure out the exact location of the shuttle and whether the Student Programming Board is meeting that night.

“We like to call it a ‘communicator’ not a cell phone,” Dr. Richard Ferguson, vice president and chief information and technology officer, said. “There are many reasons for us to do much more than a cell phone.”

Ferguson and Fred Tarca, the director of administration and project management, are the masterminds behind a program set to launch within the next two weeks that will provide 50 university-issued cell phones to students at Quinnipiac University. It is a plan that will eventually expand to include the whole school.

Similar to the university’s laptop program, which began its first stages of implementation 10 years ago, the cell phone program is an effort to increase interaction among students.

“We want to create a channel of communication for students,” Ferguson said.

“We figured out how to get our arms around the laptop program but we haven’t figured out how to get our arms around the cell phone as a device that contributes to a student’s unique college experience,” Tarca said.

Rave Wireless Inc. was secured as a consultant for the project, and the duo was introduced to Nextel.

Manny Carreiro, the vice president and dean of students at Quinnipiac University, also relayed a suggestion from the SGA.

“Manny told us that SGA wanted a ticker, or better expressed, a form of ‘visual signage’ on which they could broadcast messages like the ones in the financial classroom,” Ferguson said. “But with something like a ticker, there is just a certain amount of real estate and resources would need to be allocated which would limit communication.”

Thus, the idea of campus data exchange was born.

“With a personal device, the individual gets to decide what’s on the screen,” Ferguson said. “We want to use the phones as a ‘display device’ for student activities and student groups that way, everyone can have access.”

With the new cell phones, students will be able to log onto the Rave Wireless Web site and choose from a variety of customizable features, such as GPS tracking of the university shuttles.

“A student could be taking the shuttle bus to New Haven one night and want to know where the shuttle is or when it’s coming,” Tarca said. “So all they would have to do is pop out the phone, open an application, and see if they should wait or jump in the car with a friend.”

Other possible features may include an application for intramurals on which schedules will be posted.

A university directory containing the names and numbers of every student, faculty, and staff member and an e-mail feature may also be in the works.

A “Personal Response” mechanism and a “Guardian” feature are also projected features of the cell phones.

The personal response application would allow professors to ask a yes-or-no question to a classroom of students. Students could then press a button to submit a response and the result would be compiled into a graph on a projector.

“Think ‘ask the audience’ like on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'” Tarca said.

The guardian feature would act almost like a personal blue light system.

“Say if you were in North Lot and didn’t feel safe,” Cheryl Barnard, the Associate Dean of Student Affairs, said. “You could press a button to security and if they didn’t hear from you within a designated period of time, they could track you on GPS and come get you.”

Though nothing is set in stone, possible phone plans could run from $30 per month for a basic plan that would include limited talk time and text messaging with unlimited campus data exchange to $50 per month for an upgraded plan that has “basically unlimited everything,” according to Ferguson.

The phones will include video, camera, text features, and communication between on and off-campus students, faculty, and staff will most likely be free. Students can transfer both their phone numbers and contact lists to the new device.

“We really have to compete with the friends and family plans,” Ferguson said.

Seniors will be able to keep their phones after graduation but may have to switch to a “transitional plan” which would eliminate some campus features.

Students will have to purchase the cell phones separately. They will not be included in tuition payments like the laptops, and there are no immediate plans to make owning the phones mandatory.

“There has to be a student buy-in,” Ferguson said. “We need a critical mass of participation from the students.”

A “support mechanism” is also in the works which would provide technical support for students with damaged or malfunctioning phones.

“It may be an extension of the help desk or it may be something out of the campus bookstore. We’re just not sure yet,” Tarca said.

The pilot program is slated to begin sometime in the next week and a half during which a “representative assortment” of 50 students will receive the phones for a trial period that will last until the end of the semester.

The group is made up of computer science students, executive board members of SGA, freshmen, a randomly selected Village apartment, intramural supervisors, and the Irma/Dana/Off-Campus staff of Resident Assistants.

“We wanted to make sure the students we chose had a reason to use the features,” Barnard said.

Other students are concerned about the privacy issues that could potentially come into play with campus-wide use of the cell phones.

“The university will be able to GPS track us everywhere,” Tara Tashjian, a senior Sociology Major, said. “What’s going to stop them from saying ‘look there’s a cluster of people in this place, let’s go break up the party.”

Despite any possible road blocks, the phones are already being marketed to incoming freshmen on Admitted Students Days as Ferguson and Tarca hope to put the full program in action by next fall.

“We’re mostly focused on the freshmen,” Ferguson said.

All involved hope that the cell phones will foster better communication among the student body.

“We’ll measure its success by asking ourselves, does it support student group interaction?” Ferguson said.

“We’re trying to make it easier for a community to talk to each other,” Barnard said. “We can either be a part of it or [cell phone communication] is going to happen without us. But if we can shape it, it’s going to be a positive thing.”

She says that with the advent of cell phones student interaction is on the decline.

“Do you call people outside your calling plan? Would you call a professor to ask a question if you had to dial a long-distance number? Trying to find friends used to be as easy as dialing an extension,” Barnard said. “But now it’s much harder. Imagine being able to do something like finding out what’s in the Caf


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