Examples of Innovations with Mobile Technologies

Here is a showcase of examples from different institutions that have found relatively inexpensive ways to use mobile devices to add real value to key interactions with students and alumni -- for example, during the campus tour, in the classroom, and at alumni events such as reunion and homecoming.

Fully Leveraging the Power of the Mobile Campus Map

"Our campus footprint is tremendous. Getting onto campus as a visitor, a new student, or a new prospective faculty member, is daunting, overwhelming. Providing a mobile version of our campus map with wayfinding may sound trivial, but actually it's critical. You can use this to create a positive first-time experience on your campus ... or a positive ongoing experience."
Ted Hattemer, Ohio State U

Using GPS and location-based technology, you can offer a mobile app that not only pinpoints where a visitor or member of your campus community is, but also provides wayfinding information. The possibilities are extensive.

Ted Hattemer and Brett Pollak offer these examples:

  • Chart different possible routes onto and through campus.
  • Offer GPS tracking on campus or city buses, so that a student can access realtime data on where the next bus is, and how long it will take for it to get to their stop.
  • Integrate the app with your events calendar, helping students connect with campus events near their location.
  • Crowd-source the map, allowing users to "pin" comments, photos, or other content onto the map, just as they would with Google Maps. In this way, your students, faculty, and/or alumni can create a virtual campus experience, offering information or even ratings on events, locations, services, and campus landmarks.

Suppose that you are a commuter campus looking to get your students more engaged with campus life. Use “whispers,” a technique originally developed for public parks, to record alumni describing exciting facts or stories about campus locations; then install signs at those locations, with a dial-in number or QR code that students can use to access the recordings. Or consider:

  • What if your campus tour for applicants includes short, one-minute videos from faculty that students can view on their iPhone or droid?
  • What if a donor receiving a tour can pull up short videos of students telling the story of how a particular facility, scholarship, or program helped them?
  • What if students attending courses in your new science building can pull up "whispers" describing the unique, green features of the facility?

Rather than simply replicate your campus map for a mobile device, harness the unique abilities of these devices to add content to that map that can better tell the story of your campus.

Even if you have a small staff or budget and a variety of departmental websites, you can begin to create an adaptable and mobile-friendly design framework for your institution's website using responsive design.


A few admissions offices have begun experimenting with uses of Quick Response, or QR, codes, those black-and-white matrix barcodes that can be scanned into students' smartphones to provide URLs to specific online content. This Academic Impressions article from October 2011 offers examples and interviews web marketing guru Bob Johnson, president of Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC, for tips on using QR codes in admissions effectively.

Mobile Technologies Inside and Outside the Classroom

Dale Pike cites these two examples.

First, the example of a music faculty member who issued mobile devices to herself and her students. The students recorded their practice sessions and submitted the recording to the faculty member, who then listened, recorded her feedback, and sent it back.

"The time for feedback was shortened dramatically," Pike concludes. "In this case, the technology didn't add something that we weren't doing already, but by accelerating the loop-back cycle, it increased the impact of the feedback, as the student was able to improve sooner based on it. This technology also made it possible for the student and the faculty to review the practice session on their own time, rather than limiting that feedback to an event that occurs in a studio room or a classroom."

Second, an environmental studies course at Boise State found a number of innovative ways for students to work with environmental data in a more hands-on way using mobile devices:

  • Students used GoogleEarth on their devices to conduct virtual tours of sites, from lava flows and gravel pits to Chernobyl and Fukushima.
  • The app "Paint with Time: Climate Change" allowed students to compare how locations change over time.
  • Outside the classroom, students undertook a geolocation "recycling treasure hunt".
  • Students also recorded site-based videos as part of civic engagement and air quality data graphing projects.

Similarly, a geosciences course at Boise State uses the devices to provide the type of hands-on learning activities that are usually conducted in the computer lab. Pike notes, "This changed the way students experienced the content, giving them access to the instructor to ask questions in a way that the traditional lab assignments did not."


Tablets offer an especially robust array of new opportunities for addressing old pedagogical problems -- because a tablet is essentially a highly mobile platform for apps. The key is to help faculty identify specific activities they wish students could do and then locate apps that facilitate that activity. Read these recent Academic Impressions articles for ideas and key considerations in piloting an iPad initiative for teaching and learning:

Lessons Learned from Piloting the iPad: Part 1 and Part 2


While now slightly dated, this October 2010 article "Piloting Mobile Learning" includes further examples of pedagogical uses of mobile devices, drawn from Duke University. The examples are intriguing and worth a look.

Using Mobile Devices to Widen Your Reach with Alumni

A lot of shops are just beginning to look into how mobile devices can help broaden or deepen alumni engagement, but Ohio State University and Cornell University are among the forerunners. Both are looking at the ways that mobile devices and apps can help connect alumni with each other and with the institution.

For example, suppose that a group of alumni out of state are gathering for a gamewatch party. Offer an app that allows them to log in, find other fans they might know who are also at or watching the game, and even text or tweet to a group feed while they watch.

Or let's take this further. Can you use mobile devices to capture content at your events -- reunion, homecoming, etc. -- and then use your social media channels to disseminate that content to a larger group of alumni than can actually attend? Andrew Gossen, Cornell's senior director for social media strategy for alumni affairs and development, suggests leveraging the power of mobile devices to capture multimedia content on the go, in order to widen the impact of a single event.

Have staff or trusted volunteers active during the event, taking pictures, shooting video, and otherwise gathering content that can be pushed out via social media channels (Flickr, Facebook, YouTube) to the larger alumni community even as the event progresses.

In fact, Gossen suggests considering a new category of alumni volunteer – alumni who are responsible for capturing content at alumni and university-sponsored events beyond the campus. In the case of Cornell University, which has a global alumni community, alumni volunteers can capture content around the world – something the institution’s alumni relations office is not staffed or equipped to do.

"Offline, we are already offering high-value events with content of interest to our alumni. We’re already investing in these. We know they work; there’s no guesswork involved. So it is an easy and inexpensive step to extend that to our online community, greatly expanding the opportunity for engagement and expanding the audience for the event’s message."
Andrew Gossen, Cornell University

Now that every institution has at least one Facebook page, Twitter feed, LinkedIn group, and YouTube channel, and the value of social media is widely understood, colleges and universities need to think more strategically about their presence across all channels.


Here's one more idea.

Ted Hattemer at Ohio State University suggests using mobile devices to capture real-time feedback during alumni events. "What we don't know about our alumni is often more than what we do know," Hattemer remarks. "We might know our alumni want tickets to the game. But we need to know more about how we can provide a positive and connecting experience for them. What do they want besides tickets and the ability to park near the stadium? Use mobile technology to poll your alumni and invite their feedback in realtime."


Another example from Ohio State University: during the recent launch of OSU's largest-ever fundraising campaign earlier this month, OSU held a concert for students on their green space, and invited students to participate in the campaign using text2give. The funds raised would go toward a student group. "We didn't expect to raise much," Hattemer notes, "but we wanted to teach students about giving, and how private gifts help to fund the education and the events they benefit from." Students were also able to download ringtones from the artists performing at the event.