The adoption of mobile devices among college students (and faculty) is leading to an increasing demand for mobile apps on campuses across the country. How you decide to deal with this opportunity can have a big influence on enrollment and how students perceive your college brand.
Students who’ve grown up as “digital natives” in a world of pervasive technology expect to use their mobile devices to conduct campus transactions and access an array of resources.
Nationwide, college faculties have begun adopting mobile apps as a means of enhancing student learning and participation. Even administrators are enthusiastic about using apps to automate transactional activities (like course registration) and reduce operational expenses.
Among the core applications getting the most attention now:
- Directories—Find people (especially faculty) quickly and easily
- Events—Keep track of relevant events in your calendar app
- Maps—Simplify navigation throughout the campus setting
- Transportation—Determine bus/shuttle times and routes
- Course registration—Facilitate fast class sign-ups
IT developers are also spending time and money building mobile apps that facilitate the connection between faculty and students. Apps now address everything from class announcements to online content to retrieving grades.
Indeed, there’s great interest in enhancing collaboration and feedback. One hot new mobile app on college campuses is Understoodit’s “Confusometer.” This application enables students to provide real-time feedback during classroom lectures. This notifies teachers when they need to elaborate on confusing issues and address questions that arise.
So how are college IT leaders, most of who are working with flat or declining budgets, address growing demand for new mobile apps?
App Development Options
You have three primary choices. You can rely on a proprietary app vendor (Blackboard is the most prominent), or turn to open source applications (including MIT’s iMobileU apps), or build your own.
Proprietary app vendors like Blackboard have their own teams to facilitate implementation and integration. Third-party vendors also typically devote far more resources to product development in an effort to keep up with technological developments.
By contrast, open source software is free and easy to modify. But it requires a school to dedicate its own staff members to ensure apps work with existing campus systems. Modo Labs is one firm now providing an alternative to Blackboard, having recognized the opportunity to make MIT’s open source framework more commercially accessible.
Of course, colleges also can go it alone and engage in their own mobile development efforts. One interesting example is Wake Forest University’s (WFU) “Ride the Wake” Android app available on Google Play. Developed by an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science, it enables students to easily track in real-time the WFU shuttle buses running, time to next stop and schedule changes.
However, one challenge associated with independent and decentralized app development is that inconsistent interfaces among the end products can dilute a college’s brand. When different groups engage in different development efforts they can create a hodge podge of dissimilar mobile apps and websites. That’s encouraged some schools to introduce policies and platforms that ensure all participants in mobile app and site development are aligned in their efforts.
“Creating a policy that ensures the integrity of our brand while allowing the flexibility for identity within the units is a continuing challenge for us,” says Tatjana Salcedo, web strategist for the University of Vermont’s IT team. “However, by offering a centralized, robust and cost-effective toolset to accomplish common tasks, we are able to better facilitate a unified brand.”
Mobile App Development Courses
Student interest in mobile apps starts early and many are learning to develop their own apps before they even get to college. High school mobile app development courses are growing. For example, just this year, Lenovo partnered with the National Academy foundation (NAF)—in coordination with MIT—to develop a mobile application development curriculum pilot program for high school students.
With courses like these advancing students’ digital literacy, it’s becoming increasingly important for colleges to get a handle on mobile app development if they are to attract new students.
According to a recent study (PDF) by Noel-Levitz and the National Research Center for College & University Admissions, 52 percent of prospective college students viewed a school’s website on a mobile device in 2011—twice as many as the prior year. What’s more, 48 percent of those students claimed the experience enhanced their perceptions of the school.
Let us know if you’ve heard of or used a college (or student-created) mobile app recently. What kind of mobile app software and devices do you prefer?
If you’re responsible for IT operations on a college campus, you know students and faculty are big fans of mobile technologies—and they expect to get instant online access, anytime, anywhere. Get a snapshot of the current trends in mobility in higher education by downloading this eBrief. You’ll read how institutions like Seton Hall University, Ohio State University and Santa Clara University are embracing mobility, and you’ll get data to support your own business case for new initiatives.