St. Louis Community College, the region’s largest higher educational institution with 26,166 students and 2,127 faculty and staff, endeavors to strengthen the communities it serves through the success of its students. Part of boosting student success has been meeting students where they are – with a mobile app where they can connect to college services, news and information.
To make that charter a reality, STLCC’s Director of Enterprise Services and Operations, Information Technology, Khouloud Hawasli, led the program of creating mobile experiences geared to current and potential students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, parents and visitors. She and her team delivered the project in phases through the fall of 2020 and fall of 2021.
Powered by Modo, a low-code app-building platform, the STLCC mobile app lets students register for classes, view their schedules and student information, receive notifications and access events. Prospective students can explore the college, apply directly, and chat with representatives through the app. Faculty and staff can access their pay/vacation info, directories, and help desks, while parents, visitors, alumni and friends can join the alumni association, request transcripts, check event calendars and more.
Incentive Program Succeeds with Safety, Speed and Privacy
As the fall 2021 session approached, the college was exploring ways to bring students back for in-person learning safely and developed a vaccination incentive program for students, faculty, and staff. The sticking point was in how to bring students’ private health information into their system securely. When asked to explore 3rd party tools to enable the program, Hawasli smiled, “We already had a secure connection between the STLCC mobile app and the student information system. It was an easy answer.”
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.
Because most schools have moved to virtual learning environments in response to COVID-19, what are the likely long-term outcomes of this?
There will be many long-tail outcomes of moving so much online so quickly.
We’ve noticed two. One is the urgent need schools have to keep their community informed and connected in real-time and the need for one source of truth. There are many communication channels, and messaging can quickly become fragmented.
They need to quickly distribute, get quality information directly into the hands of students, staff and community members with no delay and no technology hurdles. The app becomes the hub for everything in a distributed model. Schools are learning now that if they don’t have the central campus experience in an app, they need one. They need a very strong communications system in place for mobile devices, systems that use approved, branded, established applications.
The second is related. No matter how residential a campus was, everything is distributed now. Schools have academic, community and social needs they never imagined they’d have. With school professionals and students spread around the world, being able to make that feel like one unit still, in a way that reaches everyone but does not overwhelm anyone is very important. That lesson is not going to fade either – the need to be able to have one global community no matter where they are.
Will more schools embrace distance learning once we’re beyond the pandemic? If so, what will that look like? Will some educational entities move beyond physical classrooms altogether?
Distance learning will continue and the campus app will be the cornerstone of learning. Connecting students to the information they need to be successful will continue and it will be more important than ever, as we are seeing now. Keeping students motivated requires real-time dashboards and personalized communications that will automatically nudge them to stay on track academically. Online learning will surely be accelerated post-CV-19 and there will likely be a deeper integration of tools that enable a modern, asynchronous approach to online learning. The mobile app—not the website or LMS—will be the critical connection of systems.
Online learning tools will change in that they need out-of-the box functionality and customization options, along with the ability to easily integrate with learning management systems, enrollment, and finance systems. We will see the app as the bridge between academic and campus life. A good app is as useful off campus as it is on campus.
Could in-classroom learning go the way of the dinosaur or is that panic-stricken hype?
It is too early to forecast that outcome, but I will say that we value community and the experience of being on a college campus. An app can build some of that campus experience digitally, and we have examples of those at Penn State and the University of Central Florida and a hundred other campuses.
But college is a life experience, and learning is still a human experience that we all crave. It is probably a safe assumption that in-classroom learning will return because of the genuine benefits to face-to-face engagement and team collaboration.
In essence, what is the future of classroom-based learning and the technology that plays a role in providing instruction?
We think things will become more connected, more personalized, and generally faster and more efficient. That has been the path of technology generally and we’ve seen it in education too. Soon, not only will class schedules and dining menus be customized for you, your learning will be, also – tailored based on your interests and past performance.
You’ll be able to study on your phone, take a test on your phone, ask professors or classmates questions and find out where to park for the basketball game, all in the same place, all in your unified experience. That’s where we are headed. Some campuses are pretty much there already.
Penn State’s official all-in-one mobile app, Penn State Go, is now available to download in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Penn State Go delivers single sign-on access to features including Canvas, Penn State email, shuttle bus tracking, campus maps, grades, class schedules, tuition bills via LionPATH, LionCash+, library services, Starfish academic advising, and more.
As part of Penn State Go’s launch, students will be able to curate their experience by selecting a specific Persona (user role) from the currently available choices—University Park, World Campus, and a unified Commonwealth Campus. Planned future updates to the app will allow for specific Commonwealth Campus Personas. Additionally, students can keep informed and connected to what is happening at Penn State by opting into specific channels to personalize the types of messages they wish to receive.
Penn State Go is a university-wide initiative that brings together various units and departments to collaborate on its development to improve the student mobile experience. “Aligned with Penn State’s Strategic Plan priority of ‘Transforming Education,’ Penn State Go will help achieve Penn State’s vision for One Penn State 2025 by providing a seamless student experience and online access to processes across all Penn State campuses,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost.
Student feedback played a significant role in developing a comprehensive mobile platform for Penn State. Discussions with University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) and other groups began in early 2019 and provided insight into what Penn State Go features were essential to ensure the app’s success.
Students were also engaged through online surveys to prioritize the desired features and suggest a name for the mobile app. “Penn State Go is going to be a great addition to the Penn State community. As a student, it has everything compiled into one application, and that makes finding everything a lot easier,” said Sarah Jordan, a sophomore in education and UPUA facilities committee vice-chair. “My favorite feature is Starfish because it makes it easier for me to contact an advisor. The overall aesthetic of the application is welcoming as well.”