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Colleges push for mobile technology

IPhones, iPads, Droids, tablet computers and other devices are nearly ubiquitous on university campuses, but many colleges are struggling to keep up with the mobile appetite for information.

“If you don’t have a mobile version of your website, then you’re seen as not getting it,” said Bob Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Ohio University, Stewart’s employer, doesn’t “get it,” having yet to establish a mobile version of its website.

“It’s disappointing to me that they (OU) haven’t done that yet because I think they’re behind,” Stewart said.

Mobile websites aren’t the only way to supply students with pertinent information about their school. Mobile applications, or “apps,” are also being developed at colleges.

The danger for schools is that a faulty or non-existent mobile presence could turn away potential applicants and donors, and turn off current students.

Here’s a look at how three universities in Ohio have taken the plunge into the mobile marketplace.


Ohio State University

Ohio State created its first mobile website in 2006, but it was basic and simple.

“We saw the Google Analytics on the site and noticed that we were getting an increase in higher capable phones,” said Ted Hattemer, senior director of university marketing communications.

There are three common ways schools create mobile sites: pay another company, such as Blackboard, for its services; use an open-source platform like the one Massachusetts Institute of Technology created; or build the application in-house like OSU did.

Jim Burgoon, OSU’s senior web designer, created the specifications for the current mobile website. He said the university “has always tried to leverage the talent of students.”

Hattemer implied that it just made more sense for the students to work on the website themselves.

“They understand the needs as well as anybody else because they are the No. 1 consumers of everything we do,” Hattemer said.

Chris Yuska, a fourth-year in computer engineering, designed the mobile website: m.osu.edu. It was released in November 2009.

The site enables users to build directories, and view athletic schedules, news and events.

While OSU continues to make progress with its mobile website and design, the university is lacking in one area. The school has yet to develop an official app.

“A certain set of students don’t want to go to a website necessarily; they’d rather have an app,” Burgoon said.

Hattemer said it’s already in the works.

“We are currently developing one and we should have something ready by, let’s be aggressive and say June 1,” Hattemer said.

Perhaps the most popular student-created app has been the iShoe, an iPhone app that gives Buckeye fans an in-depth look into every home football game.

The iShoe provides users with stats, play-by-play drives, rosters and team schedules. Fans sitting in the Horseshoe can watch video replays as well. (Due to licensing agreements, video is not available outside of Ohio Stadium).

The project was conducted under the guidance of Rajiv Ramnath, an associate professor in computer science.

“We want the undergraduate students to have a feel for the real world,” Ramnath said. “We want to give them a flavor of what might be cutting edge technology and research.”

The team, composed of undergraduate students led by Alex Stevens, a fourth-year in computer science, is currently working on a version of the iShoe for Android users.


Miami University

Miami might have been late to the party, but it recently brought an abundance of party favors.

Last summer, Miami students began working on a mobile website and an official app.

“We wanted to do something that was a little more distinctive, or at least a little more along the Miami mission,” said Jerry Gannod, the director of the Miami Mobile Learning Center. “It was very important to us that we didn’t just go out and use something that was off the shelf.”

Miami, like OSU, used students to develop the programs.

Emily Wait, a Miami fifth-year in graphic design and violin performance, worked on graphics for the website and the app.

“There’s been requests from people for other things that they would like to see in the app, and there are parts that we’re working on for later releases,” Wait said.

Currently the app works with iPhones, but the mobile website was designed to be used by a number of mobile devices.

The MU app, which was released in late November, has already been downloaded more than 5,600 times. Miami’s mobile website is m.muohio.edu.


Ohio University

Ohio University is trailing the competition. The school doesn’t have a mobile website or official university app.

However, OU can take solace in one aspect. Its school of communication was the first university communications program in the country to develop an iPhone app.

“We noticed that no one else was out there yet, and we realized that there was an opportunity to be the first,” Stewart said. “We wanted to show our students the importance of it, and to show the alumni that we ‘got it.'”

The app, titled JSchool, incorporates news, events and video content from the school of communication. It also houses “The Ohio Journalist,” an alumni magazine that was formerly issued in print.

It was released in October 2009, and can be found in the Apple marketplace.


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