Thats the question being asked this year at the University of Marylands Smith School of Business where Nextel, Inc., has distributed 320BlackBerry 7510s to master degree candidates.
The partnership is designed to afford the school the opportunity to study the impact of technologies that provide students with 24-hour real-time access to information.
Nextel will use the research in marketing its services to corporate executives. And, the partnership is expected to seed the market for the companys messaging services, as well, including Direct Connect, the companys push-to-talk walkie-talkie service.
"We always want to find one or two business or university entities and create a model," said Chris Hackett, Nextels vice-president of education. "One of the things that most impressed us about Maryland, and part the business school, is how theyve been able to climb in the ranks of business schools nationally year over year, particularly in their utilization of technology."
The current partnership, Hackett said, involves "a long term commitment on the part of the university to embrace the technology"—particularly to study and quantify its effects on student life and academic activities, and to develop whitepapers on the findings. According to Hackett, the whitepapers will demonstrate "what it is the BlackBerry can do and the benefit that Direct Connect can provide in that environment."
Hackett said the whitepapers would be used in Nextels marketing efforts and acknowledged that the company also hopes to use the project to open new sales channels.
"Our whole strategy is to really jumpstart the BlackBerry sales within the university, particularly in the graduate business schools. The reason why we chose Maryland is that we already had a strong relationship with them."
Cherie Scricca, the Smith Schools associate dean for masters programs and career services, said that students, to date, have used the devices primarily for personal communications, although they are becoming more creative over time.
One student, for instance, is using the BlackBerry to organize colleagues to work together on projects via conference calls. "That would not have been possible in the past," she said.
"One student said to me it feels like its given me an extra day of the week.
The issue for the school, said Scricca, is not so much the device as "getting folks to engage and grapple with the technology in very real and practical ways."