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Technology Perspective

Apps personalize campus communications

How colleges can promote success right on students’ smartphones
University Business, November 2016

The smartphone has become ubiquitous on college campuses. In the U.S., some estimates indicate that 95 percent of 18- to 24-years-olds have a smartphone, and that number will continue to grow.

Students and instructors use their smartphones every day to communicate with friends, family and colleagues, manage their schedules, consume content, and much more. Their engagement with these devices is often very personalized, sending and receiving information that is meant specifically for them as individuals.

Yet if you ask a handful of college students whether their schools are engaging them with personalized messaging and content on those ever-present devices, don’t be surprised if the answer is no. Personalized learning may be a popular phrase in the world of education, yet it seems that college campuses are barely putting these omnipresent communication tools to use to personalize their interactions with those who come there to learn.

But that is changing.

Over the last couple of years, a number of applications have come to market that integrate with student information systems and learning management systems, allowing for truly individualized interaction and engagement. Here’s how some early adopters use these emerging platforms.

Getting personal

Jim Crick sees promising new ways to increase yield on applications for the Sullivan University System in Kentucky. Crick, the vice president for enrollment management, says Sullivan uses Connected Campus, a mobile platform that integrates with its student information system. It’s a lifecycle app that connects the school to both existing and prospective students.

Crick has seen how phone calls, emails and other long-standing approaches are no longer as effective in admissions as they were in prior decades. Today’s student is far more likely to read and respond to an instant message than an email, he says.

And if you send videos or other content specific to their interests—and they can click and consume them right on their phones—you get their attention.

Beyond admissions, the all-important goal in higher education is retention. Graduation rates are a vital measure of how successful schools are in achieving this fundamental objective. Personalized smartphone apps play a meaningful role in promoting student success by “nudging” a student when needed, Crick says.

Apps like Connected Campus send helpful reminders to let students focus on what they need to do each day. By providing quick access to event calendars and to-do checklists, students can be better positioned to keep appointments and turn in work on time.

Another significant factor in retention can be isolation and a lack of a sense of community, especially for online students. Crick says the move to Connected Campus was encouraged partly to help promote online student retention by connecting these remote learners to campus

This can also impact brick-and-mortar transfer students who arrive not knowing many other students. Sending a steady stream of personalized content—from reminders to social event invitations—to the palm of their hands can help students feel more connected to their peers and the college community.

Discussion forums also help students connect and get things done. These apps allow for the creation of forums where students can discuss study resources, arrange get-togethers, buy and sell used books, or just look for a sympathetic ear.

On the administrative side, personalized smartphone apps can provide early alerts when a student experiences challenges and may come to believe they can’t continue. When an advisor sees a student is struggling academically or financially, they can reach out to offer support and arrange a conversation.

Administrators can also send words of encouragement and positive reinforcement, such as, “Great job pulling up your grades in Psych 101, keep up the good work!”

With single sign-on access to Blackboard and other LMS platforms, the app makes it easy for students to stay on top of assignments, register for classes, engage with tutoring services, and connect with staff, Crick says.

Supporting future professionals

The Paul Mitchell School Esani in Roswell, Georgia is one of over 100 schools in the Paul Mitchell system providing training that can lead to licensing and employment in cosmetology and related trades.

In May 2016, the the Paul Mitchell School Esani went live with the Klass App, an enterprise system that provides prospects, students, graduates and alumni a unique personalized experience from their mobile device.

Dannyette Rouse, a future professionals advisor, spearheaded adoption of Klass. The Mitchell schools have a strong sense of culture, she says, and they try to individualize each student’s experience as a “future professional.”

The Klass App integrates with the school’s SIS, and operates on iOS and Android devices, as well as on computers via web browsers. Rouse says the app is also an important component of making the school paperless.

Like others of its kind, the Klass App helps students stay connected to their school and brings efficiencies to the administrative process, such as document exchange, calendaring and sending push notifications for messaging.

A typical message sent via the Klass App might be a notification that a student forgot to “punch out” for the day (attendance hours are tracked rigorously as part of licensing exam preparation requirements).

Another helpful feature Rouse cites is the functionality around career opportunities. Salons send info to her to post through the app so students can then see those jobs on their phones. Salons can also register themselves and then post their own jobs directly.

Additionally, student placements are automatically tracked through the app, providing better real-time and centralized access to this vital data, which was previously tracked through a manual process.

App implementation

Introducing a personalized smartphone app system is no simple task, however, and Rouse says that preparation is key. All stakeholders need to be well-trained in order for this investment to provide the most effective returns.

Whatever app you choose, it should tie directly to your educational mission as much as possible. At the Paul Mitchell School, for example, there is a sharp focus on professional development. As a result, the application has been successfully embraced by learning leaders who use it regularly to do things such as:

  • Deliver weekly instructional plans
  • Inform students about preparing for field trips and events
  • Request volunteers for a particular project
  • Broadcast calendar notices about events and deadlines
  • Conduct surveys to gather student feedback
  • Use forms to capture student information

These self-contained apps replace a variety of interactions that previously took place via emails, phone calls, bulletin board posts or paper forms. It’s time to take a look at the growing world of apps available to colleges and universities to help administrators, staff and educators engage students and make the most of those ever- present smartphones.

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