photo of the Imagination Summit

                             Photo by Stephen Hernandez

At one university in Iowa, students don’t need to make the long walk to the end of their dorm hallway just to find out whether a washing machine is available. As it turns out, there’s an app for that.

These days, giving students the ability to check on the status of laundry rooms from an iPhone is just one of the many imaginative ways — sometimes overly so — that universities across the nation are using new technology to serve their students and communities. And now, building on some of the best examples out there, Biola is exploring how to carve out a technological niche of its own.

In March, the university hosted its first ever “Imagination Summit” to survey the technological landscape and explore how Biola can use new technology to freely share its intellectual resources — lectures, videos, publications, films and more — with the wider world. The daylong conference, featuring a panel of industry experts, challenged faculty and students to think particularly about the role that innovations like the iPad, iTunesU and smartphones can play in furthering Biola’s mission.

“[We’re seeing] the development of unprecedented opportunities for getting our resources out there into the world, beyond our bordering streets,” President Barry H. Corey told attendees. “I’m not interested in Biola being a self-serving institution where what we do merely affects those within this community. We have a lot to offer not only across the nation, but literally around the world.”

The day focused heavily on the opportunities offered by Apple’s iTunesU, which currently hosts 300,000 free audio and visual files from academic institutions all over the globe. The summit also hailed the iPad and iBookstore, which will make it possible for universities and their faculty experts to publish “straight to digital” books that can reach worldwide audiences without the high costs of going to print.

Already, Biola is making strong use of technology in the educational experience, speakers noted. Dozens of courses are currently offered online. Many professors use online videoconferencing and social media as part of their classes. And in March, the university launched its own iPhone app — Biola Mobile — which can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store.

But university leaders say they are excited about the greater potential to share biblically integrated classes and publications with new audiences around the world.

“Biola needs to have a global presence in this area,” Corey said, “and ‘global presence’ has never been more within reach than it is now.”