I organised an event this week for representatives of Scotland’s Colleges, Higher Education IT Directors Scotland (HEIDS) and the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries on the subject of developing mobile “apps”. We had a good turnout – about 50 people from across the sectors. The main idea of the event was to hear from some real world examples how some institutions had approached the development of mobile services, and to see how we might share ideas, expertise, or effort as more institutions start to create their own mobile services. It seems that a number of institutions have made a good start in developing mobile services, whilst others (the majority I would say) are either on the starting blocks or planning their way to the starting blocks.
We had great presentations – they are all online, have a look at them for more detail. The presentations were from Edinburgh’s Telford College, the University of Edinburgh, and Stirling University, followed by some breakout sessions to figure out where we might collaborate in future.
Most institutions felt that enhancing the student experience and the online learning environment were their priorities. They want to avoid the trap of just putting online information that is already on the web. The experience of those who have developed apps is that students are looking for quick access, bite size, time / location sensitive information and services well suited to mobile access situations.
Location based information is popular, so maps figure a lot. One of the most popular services seems to be information on where the nearest available PC is – ironic as we look to mobile technology to displace PC’s for some uses! Edinburgh University have tall buildings, so they are looking to future devices to have altitude sensors as well as traditional location indicators. Don’t laugh – where you have tall library buildings this is a real issue.
One of the tricks is to think about how services that we might not have imagined with traditional technologies. Students at Lancaster University halls of residence were frustrated because half the time when they went to the laundrette all the machines were in use. So, as part of their mobile app development the University hooked up sensors on washers and dryers to their network and published availability on their app. The students love it!
Extending the online learning environment also featured strongly. Access to learning materials, and also the ability to look up library catalogues, check availability, reserve and book online.
Some institutions are looking at exploiting other features of mobile technology, including their potential uses for cash payments and to act as an ID card for attendance monitoring. Attendance monitoring is a real challenge for many institutions. With automated card-based systems, students might be tempted to give their card to a friend so that the friend can swipe them in and it looks as if they have attended the class. However, when asked if they would part with their mobile phone for this devious purpose – no way!
At the end of the event, we agreed a number of ways in which it should be possible for institutions to collaborate – more on this in a future blog as things start to take shape.