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Southern Illinois University opts for Dell tablets over iPad for freshman and faculty

by Michael Singer

October 28 2013

Despite its past history using Macintosh computers in the classroom, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale decided incoming freshmen and faculty will be equipped with Dell Latitude 10-inch tablets instead of Apple’s iPad.

The tablets are being provided to all incoming 2013 first-year students and are being integrated into the freshman curriculum in English, Speech, Math, and University College programs. The program, called Mobile Dawg, includes deploying the tablets to 2,700-2,800 students and 500 faculty and staff at Southern Illinois University.

The tablets are preloaded with Windows 8 Professional operating system and touch enabled Microsoft Office 2013 Professional (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).

The campus also included its own software such as an e-reader so students can videoconference with study partners in other buildings, track search results from around the world, highlight sections of e-text if there are questions, read instructor’s notes in the margins and even share ideas with study groups via social media.

Not just a benefit for the students, faculty can use the tablets to create rich media content such as videos, simulations, illustrations, animations, and more to augment lecture notes and electronic textbooks. Faculty can convert lecture presentations into interactive course supplements.

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Why Windows 8 over iOS?

While the iPad seems an obvious choice for education, SIU CIO David Crain said the Dell tablets would save $3 million in overall costs during a four-year program when compared with what a similar iPad deployment would cost.

"We started out with the perspective that it would be nice to give every student an iPad, partly because college students still think iPads are really cool," Crain told InformationWeek. "But once we started digging into it, we found a number of reasons to go with Windows."

An additional $200,000 grant from Microsoft and Intel probably didn’t hurt either. Some of the savings are being attributed to warranty costs, according to the report.

To quell student fears about tablet failures, the campus is providing round-the-clock technology support. The university says it will also remotely subject the tablets to routine network monitoring and troubleshooting for the purpose of security, network performance audits and when there is a legal problem. Other than that, school administrators said the university will not track or monitor tablet use.

While students will have admin access, so they will be able to install their own applications, they will be prohibited from removing the operating system, also known as performing a root operation.

As an extra-added benefit, the students can keep the tablet with its content once they graduate.

(Choosing your next tablet: The operational advantage will be a key session at TabletBiz conference & expo in NYC on Nov. 13)

Michael Singer is the Business Editor at TabTimes

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