The use of mobile devices on college campuses has exploded in recent years—a fact that’s plain enough to university professors, who regularly compete with smartphones for their students’ attention. What’s less clear is how the surge in mobile Web use should impact schools’ communications strategies.
Dave Olson of the Mobile in Higher Ed blog told Higher Ed Live that right now, only about 8% of higher ed institutions have a central mobile presence, and those that do are still looking for focus—but the possibilities for growth are huge. Harvard and Ohio State, for example, are leading the way in helping students get from Point A to Point B on campus by offering school maps on their mobile sites. Olsen says that of all mobile applications, the campus map is the most promising right now, based on initial usage data. In addition to navigation, future mobile sites should focus on providing service-based information that can be used on-the-go, such as school directories, calendars, and possibly campus news.
Olsen says that on his own University of West Virginia campus, more and more students are coming back each semester with better devices and more demand for mobile site use. iPhone usage has started losing out to Android, though on average iPhone users are spending more time using their devices with the school’s mobile site. University of Buffalo director of Web services Mark Greenfield estimates the majority of the Web traffic for higher ed sites will come from mobile devices less than 4 years—so institutions need to start thinking soon of developing their mobile sites.
Rushing too hastily into building an extensive mobile site can be both costly and unproductive, however. Instead, Olsen suggests communications offices start small and build gradually to show some initial results of students’ mobile use before going to the top of a school’s administration for support. Focus on serving current students first, he says, before branching out to alumni and others, and find a way to redirect traffic from your school’s homepage to its mobile site in the early stages.
Olsen suggests the following tools for university officials trying to get up and running on the mobile Web:
- imobileu.org is a group focused on mobile Web development in higher ed. These are the folks that created the original MIT framework, which is what Olsen uses. It has “some wonderful documentation” and is, quite simply, “the most amazing thing ever.”
- Mobile Web OSP is a product designed to make it easier for higher education institutions to deliver mobile-optimized information and services. This is “not quite turnkey, but it’s close,” Dan says. Hopefully it will let you spend more time on layout than on setup.
- Dan’s blog, Mobile in Higher Ed has lots of resources.
- JQuery Mobile and JQuery Touch help make mobile sites aesthetically pleasing.
- iUI is another recommendable framework for developing mobile Web apps for smartphones.
- HE Live