Abilene Christian University’s (http://www.acu.edu/connected) student journalists, programmers and designers have produced The Optimist, the first student newspaper to publish on the iPad.

Immediately after Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ announcement on Jan. 27, 2010, ACU’s student-run media staff announced its commitment to deliver the first newspaper of its kind for the iPad. The marker was put down 70 days ago, and students accomplished their goal on April 6.

The university’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication took the first steps to establish a Mobile Media Task Force. Its goal: to use dedicated students and faculty leaders from across three disciplines — journalism, information technology and graphic design — to develop The Optimist’s new digital publication platform. The project hub location was ACU’s converged media newsroom, one of the only a handful of such student newsrooms in the United States.

“We had a nine-week window to set goals, prioritize and implement our vision, and we accomplished what we set out to do,” says ACU’s Kenneth Pybus, assistant professor of journalism and faculty adviser of The Optimist. “I was pleased with both the programming and graphic design students’ level of enthusiasm.”

“It took a while to figure out where we would configure our images, photos and even cutlines,” says Colter Hettich, editor of The Optimist, who also studies graphic design. “Publishing on the iPad is different than the Web. We had to think about how to tell stories differently.”

The Optimist has a long track record of innovation. Publication of The Optimist via iPhone and iPod Touch began in the fall of 2007; adoption of an updated application occurred in the fall of 2008; and now comes delivery of The Optimist on the iPad.

Using new technologies to engage students is hardly new at ACU. After a decade of considering what it means to read, write, publish, teach and learn in the new digital age, ACU launched a first-in-the-world mobile learning initiative in 2008. The initiative creates opportunities for students and faculty to experiment with new forms of social, informational and media access on next-generation digital platforms. The school will have at least 60 iPads on campus for the fall 2010 semester, with eight dedicated to The Optimist staff.