Monday, 5 November 2012

University of Leicester Mobile App: A Review

University of Leicester Mobile AppThe University of Leicester released the first version of its mobile app for iOS and Android devices this week.

So, what do you think?

Here are a few of my thoughts (iOS version) on first impression:
  • Maps - Excellent way for new students to find their way around campus, except that the North Campus is not available. If you are on campus you can click the location arrow and it'll direct you to where it is (thankfully using Google maps and not iOS6 maps).
  • Blackboard - full integration to the Blackboard Mobile App ... more on this later.
  • Find a PC - Brilliant feature - you have to first select a room to see how many PCs are currently free, but it is quite easy to switch room to another if the one you first try is full. My tip is to change it from 'list view' to 'map view' so you can see where the rooms are - you may not always know what a room is called, but you can easily see what rooms are close to where you are, or want to be. My idea for the next version would be to have this facility join up with the 'book a PC' function (if it exists?) to reserve a PC (for a limited time until you can login of course).
  • News - News feed from the main University website. Nice feature and, if students use the app as their first port of call, will be a good resource to keep students up to date. I think this would be better suited to a news feed, or series of news feeds, from different areas of the University, namely the Student Union and IT Services - this is, after all, what kind of news will affect the students most.
  • YouTube / Videos - Nice to see integration for University YouTube video but it is limited to only the 10 shown and available (not sure which 10 these are, or if it's a dynamic list loaded from YouTube). Those that are available are clearly aimed at prospective students - the question is will prospective students go to the trouble of downloading the app? If anyone has research on this I'd like to read it please (whichever direction it supports, for or against). Could this not somehow link to all the videos available through the University's YouTube channel and playlists?
  • Gallery / Images - Again, some nice additions showcasing the University, its location, and its student body, but are 14 images really enough? Could this not link to the University's Flickr account and let the user browse through more images?
  • Social - A nice list of the University's social networks - each one opens a browser instances to view.
  • Get Help - Excellent list of resources and phone numbers for students if they need help. Whether it's IT Services, the Student Health Centre, or local Police, the phone numbers are here and, if you touch the list item you can start the call. What I'd like to see are more details for some of the items here though -, address, map, etc for each item, certainly the campus based ones which could then link through to the 'map' section to help direct the person to the door rather than a phone number.
  • Open Days - I'm not sure what I was expecting to get in this section, but some text and an email/phone link wasn't it. If the app is (partly) directed at prospective students then this area could/should be far more populated and dynamic with dates, locations, links, videos, etc.
University of Leicester Mobile AppUniversity of Leicester Mobile App
Campus Map & Search FacilityFind a PC (Map view)
University of Leicester Mobile AppUniversity of Leicester Mobile App
University YouTube videosUniversity News
University of Leicester Mobile AppUniversity of Leicester Mobile App
ImagesGet Help

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed I've left out possibly the two biggest areas - Blackboard and Library. These are big efforts and could make a big difference to how students interact with the University, so I wanted to give them space in their own right.
  • Library - Excellent, love this - trying to use the Library through the normal Safari web interface on a phone screen is difficult, and this addition to the app will prove (I hope) very useful and very well used. It took a little getting used to but the results are good. The only downside, for the kind of searches I did, is the link to online or eBook resources, but I think that's more down to the web system provided by the publisher than a fault of the app itself. Please correct me if I'm wrong?
University of Leicester Mobile App
  • Blackboard - Potentially a lot of traffic in the app could be coming this way, depending on (a) how the University pushes it, (b) how well the Blackboard materials render in the app environment, and (c) whether the students want to use their smartphone to access Blackboard. I have found varying levels of accuracy in the app, and it's more down to the materials available, and how they have been presented in Blackboard, than anything: most of the "issues" can be sorted by loading the files in a way outlined in the app support.

    If you think your students will make use of this feature of the app then I suggest you take some time to either investigate your Blackboard course and how it works or, if you don't have a compatible phone to do so, ask a very nice person you know if they'd help you out - it could make a huge difference in how you work with your students, and how they work with you.

    In the app teams defence it is not intended to be a first port-of-call for Blackboard materials and interactions, but I am interested to see any results of any studies on how students will (and do) use the app to see where the development is needed to increase its use, improve its functions and facilities, and improve the student satisfaction on whether the app is worth having.
BlackBoard Files and FoldersBlackboard Files and Folders
BlackBoard ContentBlackBoard Discussion posts (threads)

Are you using the app, have to found something about it that I've not covered and think it's worth mentioning? Please feel free to leave a comment, or contact IT Services directly via the project webpage.

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