College campuses catching up with mobile trends

Campuses around the country are adding apps, mobility features

Universities are developing ways to use mobile devices for learning, moving beyond marketing and general information apps. Credit: Aidar Murzabayev

Universities are developing ways to use mobile devices for learning, moving beyond marketing and general information apps. Credit: Aidar Murzabayev

Today’s college students are likely to come to campus with a collection of mobile devices they rely on, but schools often have been slow out of the gate in capitalizing on the trend, experts say.

Nearly 80 percent of colleges and universities reported they either had or would be activating mobile apps last year, according to the 2013 Campus Computing Survey. This is up from just a quarter in 2010. Full saturation is expected by the next academic year according to K.C. Green, founding director of the project.

The extent to which schools employ mobile technology runs the gamut from simple apps that provide campus maps, bus schedules or emergency alerts to more robust offerings that include access to coursework through platforms like Blackboard. Generally, campuses have been lagging.

“This is another example of where campus is playing catch up to the consumer experience,” said Green.

Catching up in the fast lane

Many schools have been flat-footed in responding to the rapid move to mobile devices during the last few years — driven in large part by college-age consumers who are “constantly connected,” said Matt Dawson, director of digital development for the Princeton Partners, a brand marketing firm in New Jersey. He said schools are missing out on an effective marketing tool.

“There’s still a place for that printed catalog. I don’t think they’re going away, but the first point of engagement is most often online and increasingly through mobile devices,” said Dawson.

His firm surveyed 200 public and private schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and found that 70 percent didn’t have a good mobile presence.

“You can’t just put your desktop site on mobile. You can see most of the content but it can be difficult to engage,” he said.  “It’s not a particularly good mobile experience.”

Connecting students to universities

Universities are developing ways to use mobile devices for learning, moving beyond marketing and general information apps. Purdue University’s HotSeat, for instance, provides interactive real-time classroom discussion via Twitter or Facebook for students in large lecture classes.

Many schools are adopting mobile learning platforms by paying for them from providers like Blackboard, using open-source platforms or developing their own. The latter option can be an expensive and time consuming proposition, experts say.

The enthusiasm about launching mobile apps is tempered with caution about security concerns and how the app will integrate with existing information systems on campus.

While schools may be trailing behind their students in catching up to the mobile revolution, promising efforts and good models are emerging.

Features lead to greater engagement

Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., in January launched a robust app that gives students access to news, class schedules, grades, sports information, library resources, Moodle, Blackboard and more. Users can buy food or books, and prospective students can even apply to the university.

“We took some time. We put a lot of thought into this,” said Abdallah Haddad, chief information technology officer at the school. “We wanted to make sure it was robust enough, given the number of people who have smartphones.”

The effort has been well-received, he said. To date, there have been more than 124,000 screen views of CCU Mobile, Haddad said.

“Mobility, mobility, mobility — we’re very aware of that trend,” he said. “We wanted to deliver as much functionality and service as we could.”

Patricia Alex
Patricia Alex has worked as a reporter and editor in New Jersey for many years and writes about higher education for one of the state's largest newspapers, The Record.
Patricia Alex
Tags: Education,Industries,Mobile Apps