Students’ Needs Change Throughout the Year: A Campus App Should, Too
By Valerie Craig, manager of technology applications and services, The University of Southern Mississippi.
Our students’ needs change during the course of a semester. They don’t remain the same. And yet, the mobile campus app used at many colleges and universities looks exactly the same on Day One of the semester as it does at the end.
At The University of Southern Mississippi, our mobile campus app is dynamic, not static. When students open up the app, the information, links, and resources they see on their screen changes to meet their shifting needs and priorities throughout the semester.
As a result, students are always just one click away from the resources they need to navigate their college experience successfully.
We’re constantly looking at our analytics to learn as much as we can about how students, faculty, and other stakeholders are using our iSouthernMS app. In perusing the data, we’ve learned two important lessons.
The first is that students don’t come to our app to play around. They don’t consider it a form of entertainment. There are plenty of other apps they can use for that purpose. Instead, they rely on our app to help them succeed at the business of being a student.
The second lesson we’ve learned is that the features of our app that are used most frequently change during the course of a semester.
In the beginning of the semester, students are getting used to a new routine. They’re looking at their class schedule a lot, and they’re also looking at a map of the campus to help them find their way from building to building. They need to know how to navigate the campus and where they should be throughout the day.
After the first few weeks of classes, once they have their routine mastered, students are looking for things to do and ways to connect or participate. So, campus events, clubs, and other activities get a lot of traction at this time.
Toward the end of the semester, it’s all about grades and finals. Students want to see their grades and outstanding assignments; they want to know what they need to do in order to finish the semester strong.
If our goal is to improve the student experience and remove barriers to their success, then it makes sense to push the features we know they’re looking for “above the fold,” to use an old newspaper term — making these resources more accessible to students when they’re most likely to need them.
Luckily, we’re using a low-code platform to build and host our mobile campus app — and so it’s a very simple process to change the app’s appearance. With Modo Campus, we can easily rotate which features are most visible to students at any point in the semester, without having to do any special coding or rebuild the app every time.
We can also easily highlight important or timely information to make sure students are more likely to see it. When we have special events or even COVID-related notifications, we can place a callout box or feature on students’ screens for a day or two and then hide or remove this information so the app goes back to the way it looked before.
We have the flexibility to place things on the screen and use the real estate “above the fold” very strategically, to make sure students instantly see the things they care about the most when they open the app.
I manage a mobile app team consisting of two full-time employees and also three student developers. We meet as a team to discuss the ideas we have. We have found the students’ input to be very valuable, because they know how students live and work and what’s most important to them.
Once per year, we present our ideas to a mobile advisory board, and the board gives us feedback on what we should do to improve our campus app. Our mobile advisory board includes students, faculty, and representatives from various university departments, such as housing and residential life, our graduate school, and athletics.
We based our decisions on data whenever we can. By understanding which features students are most likely to use at different times, we can quickly change our app throughout the year to serve our students’ needs more effectively.