Blackboard Higher Education Mobile Summit

I’m at Babson today attending the Blackboard Higher Education Mobile Summit. While this was a free conference sponsored by a vendor, there were presentations from other schools showing what they are doing with mobile websites and applications and I was hopeful that I could take away some inspiration from them and see what is popular with students beyond the obvious dining and events information.

Trends in Mobile

  • In the last year, over 50% of all phones sold were smartphones
  • 40% of students use their phone for last minute test prep
  • 50% of private higher education schools have launched mobile apps

Babson and Queens College Panel

Queens College Mobile Site. Queens College also has a free mobile app that you can download from your device’s app store to test out which has a few more features than their mobile site.

Both institutions are using Blackboard’s Mobile Learn product, which is an app that integrates with their learning management system, in early pilot programs. Their biggest challenges so far have been supporting interfaces that can vary between devices, something that is going to be difficult with any mobile platform that you want to roll out to iOS, Android, and Blackberry. They got around this by ensuring that support staff had adequate access to devices so that they could spend the 15 minutes to a half hour figuring out how to use the interface so that they could address faculty questions.

The panelists emphasized that the most successful mobile strategy is one where you start small and roll out new services on the site or application as soon as they become available for the users. Don’t have a “mobile strategy”, have a student centered strategy and let that inform how you deliver content and services.

Assumption’s iPad Project in the Honors Program

Their Public Safety and Residential Life offices use a mobile app which is integrated with their card access system to access and report on incidents in buildings.

They also distributed iPads (WiFi only) to all of the students and faculty in their honors program (106 iPads in Fall 2010, 43 iPad2s in Fall 2011). The students own the devices after two years in the program and were given a giftcard that let them purchase the apps and e-books they needed for the program and a little extra to use at their discretion. The students used it to record interviews, take notes and dictation. One student used it to write their papers for the course.

70% of the students expected to use it 1-5 times a week, but only 40% did so. 38% used it less often as that because they said that it wasn’t enough of a replacement for a laptop and was also not as mobile as a phone. The average time spent per week on the device was 11.5 hours which included some time in class. Students found it to be a good e-book reader, but not a good study or classroom tool. The students who used it to read e-books liked that they could make notes in the book without feeling guilty, but found page numbering problematic (i.e. harder for a lecturer to say, “Now turn to page 42…”).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’ve seen increased enrollment in the honors program after advertising the iPad project. There has also been increased retention of students year-to-year since introducing this project.

Non-Emergency Uses for SMS

By using text messaging for non-emergency notifications, like registration deadlines, event cancellations/relocations, athletics scores, and course notifications, people found that more students (75%) opted in to campus alert programs which previously only had a 25-30% enrollment rate. Students receiving these messages over voicemail also tended to listen to the voicemails longer if they were receiving more than just emergency information. I find it a little surprising that the emergency notification system is an optional program at some institutions. Key to this working, of course, is allowing students to choosing what types of messages they receive via SMS.

Alumni Engagement

One of the problems with the current online tools for Alumni is that they’re often poorly connected to the social graph (Facebook and LinkedIn) for example where the advantage is that there’s rarely bad information in the social space. Nobody’s email address in Facebook is incorrect, but there are probably a lot of alumni who haven’t updated their email in our online network. Mobile apps/sites are an ideal way to integrate the two platforms, since you can distribute an app to alums that has integrated links out to those social platforms on devices where social app use is high. You can also let alumni submit classnotes right from their mobile device so that you capture images from the chapter party right as it is happening.

There’s are also interesting uses for location services, such as, “Hey did you know that you’re within 100m of five Middlebury alums right now?”

That’s all from the sessions, aside from tidbits I picked up, like a school that does parking registration via a mobile app, but if I hear anything interesting while milling around at lunch, I’ll add it as a comment here.

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