There is an expectation amongst students that their university will provide them with information using technology they are comfortable with. Combine this with estimates of 62 million smartphones in the UK by 2015, it is clear that the mobile app is a technology most students will be comfortable with and have access to. Importantly, a mobile app is typically an additional service rather than a replacement, as the information available can also be accessed via different methods if needed i.e. via the web or on campus.
Access to information is a big incentive when considering a mobile app. The Open University, recently won The Guardian University Award for its app that enables students to access course information, materials and even text books using their mobile app wherever they are. Other universities such as Manchester Metropolitan University enable their lecturers to provide their students access to teaching material and support resources such as reading lists, online articles, audio and video clips etc using their university mobile app wherever they are.
All university mobile app's provide slightly different core information, but the basics are typically a combination of timetables, campus maps, staff contact details, library search option and event notifications. Each helps the student to find out what they want to know without having to find a PC/laptop or come onto campus, all helping to ensure the student can engage when they want to, where they want to.
A mobile app also opens up extra possibilities for student engagement with universities such as Manchester Metropolitan University enabling students to access chat rooms and discussion boards. Students can therefore continue discussions outside of the teaching room, without having to be on campus. Typically staff are also active in these chat rooms/discussion boards, providing advice and answers to questions. Queens University mobile app NPulse, allows students to ask live questions, hold in-class discussions, record lectures and even rate their classroom experience in real time. Having this type of online live environment, including both staff and students, helps to improve student engagement in and out of the classroom and improve the student experience.
Some universities have added something different, by providing information that isn't necessarily focussed towards their studies, but does still benefit the student experience. Oxford University's, Mobile Oxford, provides information on travel and events within the city, whilst others such as the University of Westminster's iWestminster allows students to find each other using GPS.
Something that has already been touched on (but is worth repeating) is how the information is presented. A mobile app, enables a university to choose what information it displays as well as tailor the design to suit the student. These two aspects are very useful in helping to improve engagement between the university and the student, as only student focused information is made available.
This article has concentrated on current students, but the mobile app can also be useful for attracting prospective students as it provides the opportunity to familiarise with student events and the community prior to becoming a student at the university. In addition to prospective students, it can also be focussed towards alumni to keep them informed of news and events as well as a providing way to keep in touch with each other. A good example of this is Aberystwyth's AberWorld.
There are clearly possible advantages of having a university mobile app, particularly the positive impact it can have on student engagement. Its quite likely that one of the first thoughts is cost - whether this be time or money (or both!). However as highlighted by the Guardian article, the cost and time involved isn't necessarily as great as you may think and the possible advantages are surely worth the time and investment spent.
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By Ben Moreland