College affordability gets the 2016 campaign spotlight

Democratic, Republican candidates plan for college affordability, but views for reform are scattered.

college-affordabilityWith college tuition rising, student loan debt increasing, and more students than ever applying for financial aid, 2016 presidential candidates both Democratic and Republican are taking college affordability to the campaign trail.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) has tracked the candidates’ stances on higher education issues over the last several months, as they have proposed their own plans to increase college access and affordability, while voters pepper town hall meetings and campaign events with questions about higher education. But the higher education platforms are varied among White House hopefuls, from promises to make college debt- or tuition-free, to calls for more innovation and partnerships with the private sector.

“We are pleased to see candidates taking notice of the importance of ensuring all students have access to a quality, affordable higher education,” said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of NASFAA.

Democratic candidates have primarily focused on college affordability more broadly – with plans for debt-free or tuition-free college, as well as reforms to student loan repayment plans. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently announced her higher education platform, which calls for free tuition at community colleges, and debt-free tuition, fees and books at public four-year institutions, as well as a single income-based repayment option for student loan borrowers.

The 16 Republican candidates, on the other hand, have had a much wider array of stances toward higher education and student aid. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for instance, has proposed a “Student Investment Plan” that resembles “pay it forward” college financing plans some states have considered using – investors would pay a student’s tuition, and in return, the student would pay a percentage of his or her income for a set period of time after graduating. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have said they think students should be able to refinance their loans, an idea that has drawn the support of several Democratic candidates and has been championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Higher education has come to the forefront of the 2016 race, particularly as candidates discuss economic inequality and workforce development in America.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


3 tips for alternative credentialing

Alternative credentialing is emerging as a viable option for many learners.

alternative-credentialingInstitutions of higher education can take steps to strengthen their alternative credentialing options and attract adult learners to their programs, a new study found.

Eduventures, Inc., a research and advisory firm that analyzes the forces that are transforming higher education, announced findings from research on alternative credentialing models that is aimed at providing insight into programming options based on consumer demand.

Alternative credentials, which include certificates (for-profit and nonprofit), digital badges, and endorsements, are designed to offer flexible and agile pathways to learning.

The study is intended to help institutions understand emerging categories of programming and how they will impact the adult learning market.

Higher education is abuzz with talk of alternative credentials, but the market is also very confused about what they are and whether they matter to an adult student consumer, according to the study.

Much of the confusion, the study found, stems from the fact that, unlike conventional academic degrees, institutions rarely have a handle on the types of offerings being offered across the market today.

Compared to degrees, the appeal of alternative credentials among adult learners themselves is also quite elusive.

The Eduventures longitudinal consumer survey of adult learners nationwide found, for instance, that adults looking to further their education still, by a long shot, prefer conventional academic degrees.

According to Brian Fleming, Eduventures’ Senior Analyst for Online Education research and the author of this study, “Our research on this topic, combined with our recent survey of prospective adult students indicate that, by far, degrees still carry the most weight in this market. The enduring value proposition of conventional academic degrees coupled with a lack of clarity around alternative credentialing options may lead adult learners to question their value, especially in a labor market that shows equal favor to degrees.”

To create a strategic framework to Eduventures is recommending that institutions focus on the following three priorities:
1. Define your alternative credentialing options, whether they are certificates, badges, formal statements of accomplishment, or endorsements of some kind.
2. Determine the aim of these credentials. Are they to validate mastery of a particular skill? Do they really only serve as a more structured pathway to degree attainment? Or are they simply to demonstrate commitment to lifelong learning?
3. Articulate ways which alternative credentials can augment traditional degrees or create a viable substitute to degree attainment.

When properly positioned to the market, this strategic framework can help define a value proposition that makes these programs a viable option for adult learners.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Emerging field has huge potential for college and university curricula

Data analytics is gaining traction as a new career option for college graduates. Here’s how one institution is grabbing the opportunity and helping students prepare for jobs in the field.

data-big-analyticsIn the data information age, both businesses and higher-ed institutions are scrambling for those trained in making sense of big data analytics. But what are the skillsets today’s students need to know, and are colleges and universities able to provide this training?

With huge amounts of data being spawned by modern-day technologies, social media platforms generating an equally large amount of information, and companies scrambling to turn mounds of data into useable intelligence, it was only a matter of time before the field of data analytics became a “real thing” for the world’s higher-ed institutions. Largely driven by the growth of “big data” – or, the extremely large data sets that are analyzed to reveal trends, patterns, and connections – institutions are turning out a new breed of data scientists trained on the fine points of “crunching” data and turning it into actionable information.

“Organizations recognize the business value in using tools to get actionable and useful information out of large piles of unstructured data (loosely defined as the information that’s not stored in a database format),” says Rob Reed, education evangelist at San Francisco-based Splunk, Inc., which offers a software platform for real-time operational intelligence. “But because the technology came from industry – and not from computer science or database researchers – there’s a gap between what students can learn at a university versus what’s actually useful to business and industry.”

Reed—who is charged with figuring out how to link what companies would like students to know upon graduation with what those pupils are actually learning in school—recently conducted a 6-hour-long career fair at San Jose State University. The divide was painfully obvious.

“We talked to about a hundred students,” he says, “and maybe two of them were able to have an intelligent conversation about conducting analysis on unstructured data. I see that as both a deficit and an awesome opportunity for schools.”

Stepping Up to the Plate

When the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Colorado Boulder started noticing more alumni—Ph.D.s, masters, and undergrads—going into data analytics-type careers, Associate Chair Anne Dougherty noticed the same opportunity as Reed.

“Some of them were working for small startups in the Boulder area, others were starting careers at larger firms, and one got a job doing data analysis for Twitter,” recalls Dougherty. “If this was going to be a big field and an up-and-coming area, we knew we could support it by training students on the technical side.”

With a solid math, statistics, and computer science curriculum already in place, the department developed a new statistics minor that includes several brand-new classes in the subject area, plus several existing courses that we revamped to better serve those employers looking for “data scientists,” or those individuals who combine computing science and applications, modeling, statistics, analytics, and math to discover insights in data.

The courses, which are available at both the bachelors and graduate level, incorporate high-level mathematics, statistics, statistical analysis, and computer science.

“I think of data analytics as an amalgamation of those areas,” says Dougherty, whose department received an Expeditions in Training, Research, and Education for Mathematics and Statistics through Quantitative Explorations of Data (EXTREEMS-QED) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014. The grant is being used to change the department’s curriculum, add new courses targeted toward data analytics and analysis, and to involve undergraduate students in related research opportunities.

Specific to curriculum changes, Dougherty says UC Boulder has rolled out the statistics minor, for which calculus III is a prerequisite course—illustrating just how mathematically-advanced the core coursework is. Now, Dougherty says the school is developing a data analysis class and a data analytics certificate program that will be “most relevant for students who are majoring in either computer science or applied math.” The latter will also take specific data engineering courses in computer science to learn the technical ideas behind storing, retrieving, and processing large data sets (vice-versa for those students majoring in computer science).

In assessing the various tools that UC Boulder has used to create and administer its new analytics-related coursework, Dougherty says her department uses various software platforms, including Python, MATLAB, and R, the latter of which is a free statistical programming language. “R has been used by statisticians for many years and it’s in the public domain,” says Dougherty. “Over the last 3-4 years, we’ve started incorporating a lot of it into our statistics classes.” In 2014, the school moved to using R in its first introductory probability and statistics class. “We’re now seeing the R programming language percolating throughout our offerings,” she notes.

Measuring the Internal Benefits

As UC Boulder continues to hone its data analytics offerings and develop more data scientists, it’s also benefitting internally from the effort. In fact, Dougherty sees the research aspect of the grant providing solid value for the university itself, aside from helping corporations fulfill their individual needs for data scientists.

“As our students become better trained, they’re able to bring that to bear on the research projects that they’re doing with faculty at the university,” says Dougherty. Since receiving the grant, for example, she says students and faculty have submitted at least one related journal paper and another is in the works. “We’ve also had students and faculty travel to conferences,” she adds, “where they presented together on data analysis-related topics.”

Reflecting on UC Boulder’s progress in the data analytics realm, Dougherty says that the biggest challenge by far has been getting everyone on the same page in how they think about and define terms like “data analytics.” The business and marketing school, for example, thinks of the concepts in a different light than, say, the computer science or math departments would look at them. And while the geography department is doing “tons of data analysis right now,” according to Dougherty, its definition of that term is probably very different than that of the school’s electrical engineering department.

“As a field, this is really still in the early adolescence phase,” says Dougherty. “Culturally, trying to pull all of these groups together—or, maybe they shouldn’t even be pulled together—is an issue. We don’t really have the answer to that yet.”

What Dougherty does know is that with technology evolving at the speed of light, it’s not enough to simply develop cutting-edge curriculum and hope that it stays relevant. Like any subject matter, the data analytics portion also needs to be honed and updated, perhaps even more frequently than more traditional subjects.

Going forward, she says UC Boulder plans to offer more related coursework and research project opportunities for students within the next year. “Longer term,” she adds, “we’ll be broadening the discussion of data analytics on the campus, and trying to address some of the cultural issues surrounding that.”

Bridget McCrea is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.


Sen. Alexander promotes college aid accessibility in Tennessee

Overly-complicated forms make it harder for college students to participate in Tennessee Promise, he said

college-affordabilitySenate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) hosted a roundtable at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tenn., with area college presidents, students, student affairs and financial aid advisors, and high school guidance counselors to discuss his plan to simplify the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, that 430,000 Tennessee families fill out each year.

The first class of Tennessee Promise students began classes recently—with as many as 18,000 students taking advantage of the free tuition program. Governor Haslam has said that many prospective students are discouraged from the program by the FAFSA form. There still may be as many as 40,000 Tennessee families who are eligible for federal aid who are not filing the form.

“One of my top priorities in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is eliminating unnecessary Washington red tape to make it easier to go to college,” Alexander said. “And that includes removing the chief obstacle for Tennessee high school seniors who want to take advantage of tuition-free community college by simplifying the dreaded FAFSA form, which 3,530 families of high school seniors in Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Lincoln, Moore, and Rutherford counties filled out this year to receive financial aid.”

Alexander said his plan to simplify the FAFSA would help more Middle Tennessee high school graduates go to college and take advantage of Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program for free community college.

“This year, Tennessee was first in the nation for its percentage of high school students filling out the FAFSA. Despite the team of Tennessee Promise mentors and school guidance counselors who worked hard to help students fill out this form to take advantage of the Tennessee Promise and federal student aid, nearly 40 percent of Tennessee high school seniors were so intimidated by this form that they didn’t apply,” Alexander said at the roundtable. “The president of Southwest Community College in Memphis told me he believes that he loses 1,500 students each semester because of the complexity of the form. There are 430,000 Tennessee families already filling out the form each year, and if we simplify the form, even more Tennesseans will be able to take advantage of Governor Haslam’s promise that two years of community college are tuition free.”

Alexander and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) have legislation to reduce the form from 108 questions to two questions: What is your family income? And, what is the size of your family? Alexander has said that including the proposal is a top priority in his committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.

Alexander continued, “We may not get it all the way to two questions, but we can get it a lot closer to two than 108 and if we can, more Tennesseans will have a better future.” Senators Alexander and Bennet have also proposed allowing Pell grants to be used year-round so students can complete college more quickly if they choose, and also allowing students to fill out the federal forms in their junior year of high school instead of their senior year, so students know what financial aid will be available to them when they are shopping for colleges.

Participants in the higher education roundtable included Motlow State Community College President Anthony Kinkel; University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steven Angle; Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee; former Chattanooga State President and Provost Dr. Fanny Hewlett; former Motlow State Community College President Marry Lou Apple; Tennessee College of Applied Technology Director Ivan Jones; Sewanee Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lee Ann Afton; President of Cleveland State Community College Dr. Bill Seymour; former member of the Tullahoma Board of Education Linda Thoma; Tullahoma High Guidance Counselor Brenda Welch; Michael Green, current student at Motlow State Community College; Carlee Wilson, student at Motlow State Community College taking advantage of Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program; and Laura Monks, Tennessee Promise mentor and director at Motlow State Community College.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


WVSU modernizes infrastructure

D-Link business-class network switches help WVSU address growing demands, optimize limited budget

infrastructure-campusAfter gradually replacing end-of-life technology and making smaller upgrades over time due to budget constraints, West Virginia State University knew that in order to attract and retain outstanding students, faculty and administrators, it needed to update technology infrastructure to meet the requirements of the growing university.

When the university received a state research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s EPSCoR (the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), it turned to D-Link for network improvements.

“We needed to add a 10-Gigabit core switch to support a new high-performance computer in our Computational Science Center and connect it to other buildings on campus,” said Bob Huston, IT director, WVSU. “This installation, together with an advanced router, would also provide interconnectivity with other nearby institutions – Marshall University and West Virginia University – enabling our researchers to better collaborate with theirs on state-wide research.”

For WVSU, finding affordable solutions that provide state-of-the-art features and stretch budget dollars to their fullest is always a top priority. The university worked with its reseller partner, Infinit Technology Solutions, to find the solution that best fit its needs.

“The university needed a quality core switch, but the Cisco solution was very expensive,” said Joe Hamel, senior account executive, Infinit Technology Solutions. “We introduced them to the D-Link DES-7210 chassis switch because the capabilities were the same, yet the pricing was much better. WVSU already had some smaller D-Link unmanaged switches and standalone access points, but we were able to show them that D-Link offers much more than that. We installed the new core switch, they loved it, and they’ve now begun installing D-Link PoE head switches and enterprise-level PoE access points throughout the campus.”

By making the transition to managed PoE switches, the university has not only gained Gigabit speed, it has eliminated the need to install power outlets for the access points, and also acquired network-management capabilities that save time and make life simpler. PoE switches can also support the university’s growing number of VoIP phones and IP security cameras.

WVSU is well underway with other network expansion projects. Infinit Technology Solutions is helping the university add managed switches, expand its wireless coverage and implement unified wireless into dorms and various campus buildings. With an increasing number of managed switches on the edges (many with built-in VLAN capability), Huston says the university plans to use more VLANs to segregate traffic from various networks, such as VoIP traffic, wireless traffic, traffic from security cameras, and traffic from students and administrators.

“When it comes to networking solutions, everybody wants good value and D-Link has consistently provided the best value for us,” said Huston. “Simply put, we can buy a lot more for our money – and that gives us the best value for the university. They also provide great technical support and excellent responsiveness. We couldn’t be more satisfied.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


What does collaboration really look like?

Campus leaders discuss why collaboration is a necessity, as well as best practices for action.

collaboration-campus-leaders[Editor’s note: This article is part of our eCampus News August/September Digital Edition. Read more features in the Digital Edition here.]

Recently, the term “collaboration” has become higher education’s latest buzzword, with multiple conference speakers touting its importance, as well as everyone from CIOs to professors exclaiming that collaboration is imperative for supporting, and growing the capabilities of, today’s innovative institutions.

But collaboration is much more than the initial “warm glow” feeling of partnership, says Richard Ray, provost and professor of Kinesiology, Hope College. Meaningful collaboration is about outlining specific group roles, letting go of preconceived notions, specifying measurable deliverables, making personal investments into these collaborative projects and implementations, and much more.

In this thought-leadership piece, leaders from diverse departments and institutions discuss what collaboration really means, the potential benefits of successful collaborations, and how to get started at your department or institution.

[Listed in alphabetical order by last name]

David_Hinson200IT tools can help

By David J. Hinson, Yeshivah of Flatbush

Of the myriad challenges faced in running an efficient technology services organization, few are more challenging that keeping everyone engaged and connected to what’s happening across the entire enterprise, and being able to effectively cover the entirety of the spectrum of customer service response levels (emergencies, on-demand service, equipment drop-off, ticketing systems, etc.).

At the Yeshivah of Flatbush, we use several collaboration tools to help us manage our real-time communications. Between our campuses, our IT staff is often out-of-reach of a cell signal and rarely in their offices, though they’re usually within range of a solid WiFi signal. Texting is also often more miss than hit.

In this environment, the tool that we rely upon most, for our daily group collaboration and messaging needs, is Slack. Our uses for Slack are twofold: First, we use Slack’s feature of channels to communicate where group members are working, and what they are working on, at any given time of day (our #zoho channel); announcing when we arrive or leave a work site (our #whereami channel); or simply sending out a call for lunch partners (our #lunch channel). Second, we use Slack to augment our online help desk ticketing system to rally additional help or expertise to a person or location. As Slack has highly customizable alerts, available on our iOS and Android mobile devices, it allows us to know in real time something of interest that is happening on our channels, or when someone needs to reach us immediately.

Most organizations have a blind spot in their service coverage: knowing where their people assets are at any given time, and being responsive to all of their constituencies in real time.

Slack helps us to fulfill both of these needs, without disrupting our normal work flow.

David J. Hinson is the director of IT at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, in Brooklyn, NY. He is also a former CIO of a small liberal arts college, a seasoned mobile applications developer, and a popular podcaster.

head_shot_salwa200Establish specific, measurable deliverables

By Salwa Ismail, Georgetown University

As institutions of higher education balance and manage the rising complexities of the dynamic environment that they operate within, collaboration among the different units on campus becomes imperative. However, the strategies for collaboration are still nascent and under development. It becomes essential that the different units with asymmetrical reporting structures and different unit-based goals collaborate efficiently and effectively while balancing the restraints that the different units have based on their organizational structures.

Some of the strategies for successful collaboration and effective partnerships emanate from clear communication. It’s always best to ensure that the final goals and outcomes of the collaborative partnership are defined before the initiation of the collaboration. Once the final outcomes have been agreed upon, it is extremely beneficial to keep channels of communication open between the different team members involved in the partnership to ensure clear, professional, and respectful exchange of information between them.

Periodic check-ins between the different parties involved should be built into the partnership expectations, along with an upward reporting structure to ensure that the collaboration’s deliverables are on task, and are still compliant with the overarching goals. What also helps is to have the team members who are involved in the collaboration be clear on their roles and responsibilities towards the partnership deliverables. Having the team members on the same page helps ensure that conflicts are minimized (if any arise) and also helps ensure efficiency and output of deliverables within the expected timeline.

As partnerships evolve—and include not just intra-campus units, but units from other universities and the outside community—establishing specific, measurable deliverables, along with the functional requirements needed to produce these deliverables, can ensure that the projects and partnerships do not stagnate or create any misunderstandings.

Collaborations between different units can leverage the best resources and expertise to deliver successful results for the institution. And following some of these tips for cooperative partnerships—many from my own personal experiences—can help the institution increase administrative efficiencies and programmatic impact through these combined services and resources.

Salwa Ismail heads the Library Information Technology Department at Georgetown University Libraries.

(Next page: Personal investments; strategy and sacrifice)


New partnership tackles higher-ed admissions

Kira Talent, Hobsons combine student assessment and admissions CRM software to make admissions process easier

admissions-higherA new strategic partnership will allow Kira Talent’s Kira Academic to embed its video interviewing capability directly into Hobsons’ line of application and admissions customer relationship management (CRM) products, giving universities and colleges the ability to view short recorded videos of applicants during the admissions process.

The partnership is intended to help schools save time by accessing Kira Academic’s insights within Hobsons’ Radius student record, the enterprise Student Relationship Management platform.

“We’re excited to offer a simple way to add valuable video admissions information directly into our line of CRM products, creating a robust profile on applicants in one place,” said Paul Miller, Vice President of Product Management at Hobsons. “With Kira Academic, our clients will develop a deeper understanding of applicants earlier in the admissions process, and ultimately make smarter admissions decisions and build a stronger cohort.”

Kira Academic is used by programs at universities like Yale and Notre Dame. Through the partnership, its services will be available to the 2,000 institutions currently using Hobsons for admissions. By integrating Kira Academic’s platform into Hobsons’ Radius student record, universities can control and manage student intake from all of the enquiry sources efficiently within one system.

“We are both dedicated to helping schools find the best and brightest, making this partnership a natural fit,” said Craig Morantz, CEO of Kira Talent. “By bringing our platforms together, we hope that customers will find our products valuable, insightful and easy to use, improving their cohorts one admissions season at a time.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Back to campus: Top technology trends for the year ahead

The technology and service trends IT and admin should focus on for 2015-16.

back-campus-trendsIt’s back to school time, and IT teams at college campuses nationwide are preparing to handle the onslaught of technology needs of faculty and students alike—but what should IT and admin prioritize?

Many technology departments will have spent the slower summer months upgrading existing infrastructure and rolling out new technology solutions. After all, with a growing debate focused on the role of advanced education and its value to our nation’s workforce, colleges and universities are under pressure to show their significance and return on investment to today’s college students.

As innovative services continue to play a sizeable role in allowing institutions to harness the power of rapidly evolving technologies to benefit students and institutions alike, here are four trends that will be major ground shifters in the upcoming school year:


1. Big Data Changes Everything

Data analytics dominates the discussions around research, smarter governing and the Internet of Things. One emerging big data and analytics opportunity for colleges and universities is to help address, and be ultra-competitive in response to, recent Administration priorities.

Last December, the White House announced that by the start of this school year, the Federal government will rate colleges on access, affordability and student outcomes. This new approach will assess student achievement at institutions currently receiving Federal student aid and will use this information to determine future Federal investments.

However, data analytics plays other roles beyond funding allocations. Data collected on former students—including career paths, salary history, geographic distribution, and success measures for current students will come into play for recruitment and retention efforts. Student retention is top of mind at all colleges and universities, and at some universities an increase as small as 1 percent in freshman retention rate equates to $1 million in revenue recognized. The impact of data analytics across the higher education spectrum will be a major focus for this school year, and IT teams need to be prepared to stay ahead of the data tsunami.

(Next page: Trends 2-4)


Apperson expands solutions for exams

Comprehensive service supports the creation, delivery, scoring, and analysis of online or paper-based exams

exams-assessmentAssessment provider Apperson has expanded its solutions for higher education with Evo Academics for Scan Centers, a new assessment management solution designed specifically for colleges and universities.

The solution combines high-speed scanning and support with a cloud-based platform for test scoring, reporting, analysis, communication, and online testing.

“Higher education scan centers are responsible for handling large amounts of data every day,” said Bill Apperson, chairman of the board of Apperson. “With Evo Academics for Scan Centers, we’re providing a comprehensive assessment management solution that will make this process easier and more reliable while providing educators instant reporting and analysis.”

Evo Academics for Scan Centers supports the delivery, scoring, and analysis of online or paper-based exams. Users can create and deliver assessments online, via paper and pencil, or a combination of the two—and they can access all the data in one convenient, cloud-based application.

Evo’s assessment creation platform and student portal are optimized for online exams. Instructors can create short answer, essay, and other question types in addition to multiple choice and true/false questions. They can include passages, images, or videos to enhance question content; build and store rubrics online and use them to grade responses quickly and intuitively; set an optional time limit for online assessments; view open and completed assessments; and create, save, print, and reuse assessments over time.

With paper-based assessments, Apperson’s high-speed Sekonic scanners can scan up to 5,500 sheets per hour. The scanners connect to a computer using a simple USB cable.

The reporting and analysis tools built into Evo Academics for Scan Centers empower instructors to reach a deeper understanding of student learning and institutional effectiveness. With interactive item analysis, instructors can evaluate success at a glance or zoom in on specific questions and students. A live results grid allows instructors to watch results arrive in real time and make corrections on the fly. Users also can generate an Excel Workbook with class results or export results to Canvas by Instructure and Brightspace by Desire2Learn, with more gradebook integration to come.

Apperson’s Assessment Specialists will work directly with any college or university to propose a comprehensive solution—including scanners, forms, software, implementation, and training—that fully meets its unique needs.


Material from a press release was used in this report.


University launches mobile library navigation app

Mobile app uses Aruba Beacons, Meridian App Platform to offer users turn-by-turn navication and collaborative content for OU Libraries System

OU-appThe University of Oklahoma (OU) has deployed Aruba Networks Aruba Beacons and the Aruba Meridian Mobile App Platform to deliver a new mobile app that helps students, faculty and visitors navigate the OU Libraries, exhibits and other Norman Campus landmarks.

The OU NavApp provides turn-by-turn directions and location-based and educational content for more than 1 million visits annually.

Following a successful proof of concept in the library’s Peggy V. Helmerich Collaborative Learning Center, the university decided to expand its deployment to its entire seven-floor, 400,000 square foot OU Libraries system as well as other highly-visited attractions on campus including The National Weather Center, Fred Jones Museum and Sam Noble Natural History Museum.

The OU Libraries is the largest research library in the state of Oklahoma. In addition to providing traditional library services to students and faculty, OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library is the site of a Galileo’s World exhibit that begins August 2015 and runs through 2016. The OU Bizzell Library was chosen to host this exhibit, as it possesses a complete and rare set of first edition Galileo publications from 16th century Italy, some of which even contain Galileo’s own handwriting in the margins.

With its extensive collections including 17,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archives, more than 1 million photographs and more than 1 million maps, as well as its unique collaborative learning center, the OU Libraries is a popular destination for students, faculty and visitors. However, as Matthew Cook, Emerging Technologies Librarian for OU explained, it can be complicated to navigate.

“It’s an intimidating building, especially for first-time users, which include many of our incoming freshmen, and it’s a bit obscure. The resources and services are not immediately apparent when you walk in the front door,” Cook said. “With the beacons and mobile app, we can now leverage the technology that’s already in our freshmen’s pockets – their mobile devices – to combine the offline and online experience and guide them between resources. Essentially, these solutions let us tap into and better serve the needs of this growing #GenMobile generation of user.”

OU deployed Aruba Beacons and used the Meridian Mobile App Platform to design their interactive, feature-rich NavApp, which is available for both Android and iOS. Cook explained that when users who have downloaded the app enter the OU Libraries system, their experience is truly transformed. The app is organized by type of user – student, faculty or visitor – so that users can quickly and easily find the information and resources most relevant to them.

The app provides a map and turn-by-turn navigation for every publicly accessible area along with all of the physical resources, so users can easily find their way through the buildings and locate resources, gallery exhibits, restrooms and elevators. Cook noted that OU relies on the accessibility features built into the Meridian Mobile App Platform so they can provide users with disabilities the easiest route to elevators, for example, or during a storm, guide students using the library to the safest location. Said Cook, “Beyond the obvious convenience and efficiency the app brings our users, there’s a safety and security element as well.”

“We have the content in place and the navigation is working beautifully,” said Cook. “Now we need to monitor the number of users downloading the app to determine how successful it is, ultimately, and how much further we can expand the deployment.”

Click here for a video of the OU Libraries NavApp in action:

Material from a press release was used in this report.