With the growing number of smartphone and tablet users around the world and on campus, the third-largest university in the UW System responded to the demand and developed a mobile app.
Staying connected to UW Oshkosh
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s mobile app—the first in the UW System to become available for the Android Market and for iPhones—is a free application with a simple, clean user interface. Its functions make finding people and places at UW Oshkosh simpler and give instant access to events, campus information and news.
“With news from UW Oshkosh Today and the Advance-Titan and access to Twitter and YouTube, people on and off campus can more easily stay connected to UWO,” said Jamie Ceman, multichannel marketing and web development assistant director for Integrated Marketing and Communications.
Additional features include campus maps, which provide campus building locations, and Emergency Resources, which provides contact information for University Police, Risk Management, Safe Walk and Crisis Hotline. Ceman said the way people are accessing information is changing and the University needs to keep pace with that.
“Communication needs to happen on multiple channels if we want to be effective,” Ceman said. “University leadership is very committed to the integrated marketing and communications model, rolled out to campus almost five years ago, and is extremely supportive of the new methods we need to use to reach out to university constituents.”
UW Oshkosh Advancement and Foundation President Art Rathjen explained that researching and creating new channels of communication, such as the mobile app, is part of advancing and engaging the campus community as well as strengthening both internal and external communications.
“It is important that the University continues to create and build upon relationships through several mediums,” Rathjen said. “Having a mobile app readily available will assist in keeping the campus community and its visitors connected to UW Oshkosh.”
Understanding the need to communicate on multiple channels, the UWO mobile team collaborated to develop a multi-platform app to fit the needs of its users. Students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors can download the app and use it on several devices, including Android smartphones and the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
“We saw that over a six-month period, Android traffic to the UW Oshkosh website grew from a small percentage to overtaking iPhone traffic,” Ceman said. “In order to deliver the app on devices that are actually being used by our campus, we needed to develop for both iPhone and Android.”
After making the decision to develop an app, a significant amount of research was conducted on what types of functionality is seen in university mobile apps, as well as discussing lessons-learned with UW-Madison, who launched an iPhone app late last year. A group of representatives from areas across campus was assembled to discuss what functionality could be launched for the University.
Creating a multi-platform mobile app
Development of the app began with a low-cost platform, discovered through collaboration with UW-Milwaukee, in Sept. 2010. IMC Web and New Media Programmer Joel Herron, who developed the app, said he hopes users find its functions helpful.
“We hope app users feel connected to UW Oshkosh through the combination of news, videos and Twitter feeds,” Herron said. “Currently our app is pretty similar to what most universities are offering, which makes sense in a lot of ways as higher education institutions all serve the same types of people.”
A lot goes into developing an app, including research, planning, programming and testing. Herron said he came across a few challenges throughout the development project but said these challenges were important to overcome in order to create a versatile app.
“The major issue in building apps for multiple platforms is that in most cases you have to build two completely separate applications using completely different programming languages. We were able to utilize a framework to allow us to develop both applications using a common language,” Herron said. “Another challenge we came up against is the sheer number of different Android devices and screen sizes that exist. We had to develop the app in a certain way so it would look the same on multiple devices.”
UWO’s mobile future
The University’s mobile team understands that not everyone has an iOS or Android device, and because of this they have built a mobile website (m.uwosh.edu) so others can utilize the features on their devices. For the their long-term strategy, the team is looking forward to working closely with campus faculty, staff and students to understand what functionality they want and need on mobile devices.
According to both Ceman and Herron, this is a pilot app and wants it to become a more substantial tool for campus to use and for the community to stay connected. Herron, along with the rest of the team, hopes that by working with campus and releasing updates, they will be able to differentiate the app from others and give its users a “UW Oshkosh-centric” experience.
“For the future, we’ll be looking at the statistics from the app to see where it should go next. Our goal is to keep improving and adding more features as time goes on,” Herron said. “My goal through this process is to make an app that the campus community doesn’t just download and use occasionally, but it becomes an ingrained part of how they interact with UW Oshkosh.”