How Higher Education Could Benefit From A Mobile Makeover
As the world becomes more mobilized, businesses everywhere are beginning to adopt apps into their workflows, increasing productivity, improving communications and allowing them to stand out from the competition.
However, the situation is very different for public sector services such as education, who need to prioritise their spending on educational resources and staff, and find the potentially high costs of app development difficult to justify.
Current mobile app use in most universities is still at its very early stages, but as mentalities change and the benefits of mobile apps become obvious, it is only a matter of time before education providers begin looking at their options.
However, at the present time there are a series of obstacles that are preventing universities from considering this as an option.
The most immediate and obvious obstacle that universities face is low funding. With limited financial resources, mobile apps are hardly in the priority list for these bodies.
Another obstacle is the need for clarity as to how exactly apps could benefit them. Universities, for instance, must be able to justify their expenditures. With limited data available about the exact benefits that higher education apps specifically could bring, this poses a challenge.
However, enterprise apps have been proven to increase productivity and reduce costs in many industries, so universities could potentially justify the cost by pointing out the reduction of other costs that apps would bring.
Not only could apps increase productivity for staff members, but they also have the potential to reduce costs such as printing of teaching materials. Most of all, they could improve the student experience dramatically by making attending lectures and carrying out research a smoother and easier process.
What areas could higher education apps benefit?
Higher education apps could actually bring benefits to many areas, from work submission assessment to teaching and distribution of materials.
Assessment of submitted work
Today, work submission within universities has become much easier than in the past thanks to the ability to submit it online, giving students more flexibility and ensuring that the work is not lost.
Currently, the way this work is assessed at most universities is via an email-based system that allocates work to examiners, then monitors and handles issues in coursework submission and assessment. However this means that examiners are limited to working from a computer.
Considering the large amounts of coursework that examiners generally need to get through, it is inefficient that they should only be able to do so at their desks. Mobile devices such as tablets could enable them to use precious time during commutes and while outside of the office to continue assessing coursework.
Distribution of teaching materials
Not only is technology changing the face of education and teaching; attitudes towards teaching are changing too. One of these is the tendency that some university students have of not attending lectures.
Although some universities have measures in place to avoid such absences, the reality is that these attitudes are unlikely to change.
Young people today have grown up with the internet and have been using mobile apps for years, so their understanding of learning is very different from traditional top-down education systems. As such, they expect to be able to find all the materials they need for learning and sitting examinations wherever needed.
Most universities have had virtual learning environments for years, where module leaders are expected to upload learning materials corresponding to their module. In this way, students can have access to them from any computer without having to rely on paper-based notes and reading materials.
However, as students increasingly use mobile devices in their daily lives, expectations are shifting towards more mobile resources that they can access no matter where they are.
Higher education apps are great solutions to this problem. With an app, students can be allowed to download audio and video lectures to watch or listen to anywhere, whether on the train or at a café.
Reading materials such as PDFs and Powerpoint presentations can likewise be enabled for direct download from the app. Or, taking it a step further, they could even be enabled for reading within the app, eliminating the need to download them into a computer or device.
All this would make learning much more attractive to students, and fit better with their way of living today.
Another kind of app that shows great potential is news feed apps. These could be apps used by by all students belonging to the same course or department to share news about assessments, lectures and any other relevant information.
These apps could again replace current solutions such as the virtual learning environment, mobilising information so that it can be accessed by students anywhere. So for instance, a student heading to a course-wide meeting but unable to remember where it is being held could easily check this information on their smartphone.
They could also be used to facilitate work on group projects, to encourage shared learning and to enable networking between students.
Finally, a promising area for the introduction of higher education apps is student timetables.
Particularly at the beginning of an academic year, lecture timetables can be hard to remember. Problems can also arise throughout the year when lecture times or rooms are changed.
Students normally need to write their timetables down manually, and if they forget to bring their diary it will be difficult for them to find out the time and place for their lectures.
Some universities have good systems in place for updating timetables regularly according to time and room changes, but such systems are generally not very mobile-friendly. Even when accessible on a browser, they require longer than desirable to load, particularly if the student is running late.
A timetable app could allow students to check their lecture times and locations at any time no matter where they are. Such an app could also send push notifications in case of changes in time or location.
The potential for mobile apps in higher education is immense, and could improve the university experience for staff and students alike by enabling them to access the information they need on their mobile devices whenever and wherever they are.
There are already a number of projects attempting to make learning more interactive and interesting, and solutions such as the virtual learning environment and online timetables are definitely a step forward.
However, if universities wish to align themselves with the expectations of students today, they will need to take this a step even further by mobilising existing solutions that allow students and staff to access services whenever they need to.