Program director gives best practices on how to design with students in mind for optimal engagement

app-students-designThere is no doubt that today’s college student is tech-obsessed, with some studies citing that students are carrying on average seven devices around campus.

In order to meet students where they are, we educators need to go mobile. To succeed, however, we have to do this in a way that meets the young person’s desires for functionality and the institutions need for sharing important content. Plus the design also needs to be cool.

As the director of University 101, a first-year student seminar, my goal is to help new students make a successful transition to the University of South Carolina, both academically and personally. The University of South Carolina has a reputation for being innovative, and I have been an advocate for making our courses, and particularly our textbook, more mobile friendly.

The response to the mobile app we created for University 101 has been overwhelmingly positive: Students like having all of the info they need on their mobile devices—in their pockets instead of in their backpacks. Plus, the interactive elements offered on the app allow students to engage with the material in a more enjoyable manner and allow us to include more content than could be delivered in our old print text due to size and budget constraints.

Our instructors are also excited about mobile. They especially like the ability for students to email assignments digitally rather than having to collect physical paperwork.

While we have used the app for our course textbook, university apps are a great way in general to communicate with students, professors, alumni and potential prospects. And there are various platforms available. We used Mag+ as it was easy to learn and we really like the features they offer, but Adobe DPS, Oomph and many others are also good choices. What you choose will depend on the level of creativity, cost and design work you want to invest.

Here is our formula for making a winning app:

1. Write out goals and measurements

In order to measure the success of your app, you have to know what you expect from it at the start, as well as how much time and resources you can devote.

Creating realistic goals and designing around those goals helps you achieve a better outcome. For example, is it realistic to assume that 90 percent of students will regularly use an app if there is nothing attractive or interactive about it? Probably not, since you are competing against Instagram, Facebook, and Yik Yak for their brain space.

If your initial goal, however, is to get students to move 40 percent of their homework and class communication to mobile, that is a specific and measurable goal you can design around. You need those students to want to open and use that app, thus forcing you to make it more fun, engaging and easy to navigate.

(Next page: Best practices 2-4)


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