It’s not entirely clear, but Mark Power suggests a number of reasons, from the type of devices that are currently most popular among students and the contracts they pay on them, to the lack of mobile optimisation of institutional web content. Students’ use of mobile is beginning to grow very, very fast – JISC Mail research shows that visits to universities’ websites from mobile devices increased in some cases by as much as 200 per cent between November 2010 and November 2011. Because it is starting from such a low base, however, institutions have a useful window of opportunity to really think about what they need, and how to achieve it.
Mobile Bristol is a mobile web app that integrates and optimises delivery of campus services to students’ browser enabled phones. Oxford University’s MOLLY offers similar services through a different approach.
MOtivATE and Without a Paddle are projects that respectively use mobile messaging to support learners and improve student retention, and provide students with a smartphone and some apps so that they can develop their own initiative and problem-solving skills.
HealthCARE at City University, London has developed augmented reality apps to support learning for students on healthcare courses. Read about this and related projects on the JISC blog.
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Predictions of an explosion in the use of mobile to access content and services are based on research showing that, in the UK in July 2011, mobile accounted for more than 12.5 per cent of UK web use. In higher and further education, the figure was much lower – only 2 per cent – but, even so, if the year on year growth rate is maintained, the majority of web access will be through mobile devices by 2015.
Faced with an already bewildering array of technologies, how can a college or university optimise the delivery of its services and content for mobile devices?
This is the question that the latest JISC Observatory report Delivering Web to Mobile seeks to answer. The new version of the report, published in June, is a considered overview of the practical choices available amid predictions that web access on the move is likely to exceed access on desktop devices by 2015.
Report author Mark Power points out that it is particularly timely to be considering this issue now. Scott Wilson, assistant director at JISC CETIS, said in a recent webinar “You’ve got maybe a couple of years to really consider what your strategy should be”.
Mobile has the potential to transform student experience completely. Mark agrees with Scott’s webinar estimate of a couple of years to devise a complete strategy for mobile, and adds that institutions should aim to implement various aspects of a mobile strategy within the next year – specifically the delivery of student services such as room bookings, finding the nearest available computers, local transport information and other related student support services that fit so perfectly with the context of mobile.
The next step is to examine what the college or university itself wants to achieve via mobile. There may be a need to do very little – equally, this may be an opportunity to build completely new services taking advantage of the functionality of mobile devices to change the way students work with resources, to support them better in their daily life, or to boost the accessibility of material.
Mark comments: “The ‘Delivering Web to Mobile’ report makes clear that it is time for institutions to start mapping out their approach to mobile. Existing websites, new web content and delivery of services to students will encompass different approaches and there’s simply no one-size-fits-all.”
The report says that there are three main practical options for achieving effective mobile link-up – responsive web design, mobile specific websites and apps.
In Mark’s view, the choice when it comes to apps is between web apps and hybrids: “Probably no institution can afford to go down the native app route – not at a common services level at least. I don’t see how any educational institution could afford to build separate apps across platforms and then maintain them. However, institutions do have experienced and talented web designers and developers who already have the skillset for optimising the web for mobile. Also, given that many institutions use CMSs to deliver their websites, it may well be that much of the work can be done through the use of vendor plug-ins and extensions.”
The key thing to do is to go back to your CMS and see what the vendor can offer as plug-ins, and what they have in development. This will be the cheapest and quickest way to develop an enhanced mobile offer, both for the initial development and for maintenance and updates later.
Responsive web design, where web sites are created to be flexible and adapt to multiple screen sizes, has a lot of buzz around it at the moment and, while it offers some great opportunities, Mark says it does require more time and resources than your typical ‘built-for-desktop-browser’ approach, and it may be a case of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Plug-ins may well do the job you need.
He adds: “Colleges and universities have lots of options available to them, and I think every strategy is going to involve taking a number of different elements from the report. The technologies exist to enable every institution to optimise for mobile: web app approaches to context-specific service delivery, design approaches to cater for a growing variety of screen sizes and technical frameworks that quickly and efficiently optimise content for delivery to mobile devices.”
The report covers all the options in some depth, and is being seen as a must-read for institutions as they plan their strategy for mobile.
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Mark has been speaking at a recent conference on Institutional Web Management.