Posted December 6, 2011 by Eric Heilmeier 

Going Mobile

Students are accessing information differently than before. They aren’t always checking our website from their rooms or even laptops. More often than not, students are accessing our information from some sort of mobile device. For sake of argument in this post, I’m going to identify “mobile” as either a smartphone (Internet capable) or a tablet (such as the iPad).

Often times, we hear "there’s an app for that" or "visit our mobile site," but what’s the difference? Simply put, mobile sites should be useful when looking for static information, whereas an app needs to do something. For example, an app could find you the closest open parking spot in the city or identify the song to which you are listening. These apps are doing something for you. A mobile site it better utilized as a way for someone to search for a particular answer, for example, utilizing a mobile website for a Campus Information Center.

So, what’s better? Well, it depends on your goal. Apps can be fun; they can have extra features and really engage your audience. However, apps can be expensive to develop. You need to create at least two versions of the same app to be accessible on the two main mobile platforms—iPhone OS and Android OS. However, you don’t want to leave your Blackberry audience in the dark. You’ll also need to have someone on your staff, or be willing to pay someone, that can update the app regularly and be ready to troubleshoot any issues.

A mobile website, on the other hand, can be more easily created and edited to add new content. Yet, you can’t incorporate phone functions, such as tweeting, camera functions, or location services with a mobile site like you can with an app.

So, what should you use? What are your goals? What information or experience are you trying to convey with your audience, and how can you share that information or experience in the most seamless manner? What are your resources? At the very least, utilize some of the students you work with and have them access your office’s website on their mobile devices. Is your website even mobile-friendly?

Mobile devices are here to stay and are becoming cheaper and more easily accessible, particularly to incoming students. Student affairs professionals need to ensure that we are engaging and informing our students where they are at—whether on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

Does your school or department have any sort of mobile presence, either through an app or mobile site?  

Eric Heilmeier

Eric Heilmeier is the Director, Pierpont Commons & Associate Director, University Unions at University of Michigan–Ann Arbor.

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