Post-secondary institutions are traditionally both risk averse and slow adopters of new technologies. In facing the rapid adoption rate of mobile technologies by the general population, it can be difficult to know where to start and how to know whether your initial efforts are working.
But this is the time to jump in and learn. These technologies are evolving, and your institution will need to evolve with them—but you will only be positioned to do so if you are already working with these technologies, testing what is and isn’t effective for your students and alumni, and working proactively to identify those opportunities to leverage mobile technologies to move your institution forward—whether in recruitment, teaching and learning, or advancement.
"Don't be afraid to get started. It's easy to get afraid because things are moving so fast. But if you don't jump in, you are really just doing a disservice to your end users, your students and your alumni. At least you can be addressing their needs and moving in the right direction, even if you need to evolve over time. Mobile devices aren't going away, and you need to keep your website and your other interactions with students relevant and accessible to them. Iterate, seek feedback constantly and listen to it, and keep moving forward."
Brett Pollak, U of California, San Diego
Thinking About Return
There are ways to begin measuring the effectiveness of investments in mobile technology, if you identify specific outcomes or specific problems that you want to use mobile technology to address.
For example, maybe one "problem" is the bounce rate on your website. Maybe a perennial issue has been that prospective students arrive at your website and get lost and frustrated too quickly -- a situation that is exacerbated when visitors with mobile devices have to repeatedly zoom and scroll horizontally in order to read the website.
John Devoy, director of website strategy and analytics at Arizona State University Online, conducted a before-and-after study when ASU Online used responsive design to ensure their site could be viewed cleanly on all mobile devices; Devoy set out to document the impact of this redesign. Among his findings:
- Requests for information increased nearly 57% after the redesign.
- The average time on site for visitors who submitted a request for information decreased by 1 minute post-redesign.
- 85% of visitors who submitted a request for information did so on their first visit, post-redesign -- 6% more than did pre-redesign (strongly suggesting, Devoy comments, "that visitors were compelled to take action more quickly than they were pre-redesign").
- Converting visitors viewed 20% fewer pages before converting, post-redesign.
Devoy was able to show that the mobile-enabled site using responsive design increased conversion in this case of prospective students requesting more information about applying to the school.
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.
Similarly, in the classroom, identify the specific problems mobile learning might address. Are you hoping to boost student grades by getting them faster or even real time feedback via their mobile devices? Track grades. Are you hoping to make it easier for students to study their course materials sooner and more thoroughly by making them accessible anytime, anywhere, on their devices? Track access to and downloads of course content—and then track grades.
If you are using mobile devices to widen alumni engagement, track the number of alumni responding to a poll, check responses from alumni on how connected they feel with the institution and why, and note the number of alumni you reach through mobile content. Return becomes very easy to quantify when you are looking at expanding the impact of the dollars you spend on a reunion event to reach hundreds or thousands of additional alumni through text messaging, recorded video, and mobile apps.
Ultimately, while you may not be able to measure everything, you can measure certain key things -- and it's critical to get started. You can't stand still, even if it is (initially) difficult to quantify the return on your investment. The cost of missed opportunity in this case is too high.
The key is to act now.
Among some of the steps you will need to take in order to move forward responsibly:
Involve IT early, and start by letting them know what your goals are. They can problem-solve with you. For example, if you would like to pilot offering course schedule and location information to mobile devices, make sure you are prepared for the change to your web traffic. On the first day of classes, rather than a single spike in requests to the server in the morning, as students check their course schedule from their laptops in their dorm room, you may now see server requests from mobile devices throughout the day.
Identify a pilot project. This might involve:
- Selecting an alumni event and testing one way to integrate smartphones into the programming. Look to Ohio State University for examples of integrating text2give during a campaign launch, or to Cornell University for examples of deploying mobile devices to record and share content from an event with a wider audience.
- Surveying your faculty to learn who might be interested in piloting a mobile learning initiative in their classes. For examples of pilot projects, read our recent showcase; to learn more about how to manage such a pilot responsibly, read our article "Piloting Mobile Learning." For a truly in-depth investigation into use case models and effective mobile strategy for teaching and learning, attend our "Using Mobile Devices to Transform Teaching and Learning" conference.
- Investigate your options for mobile-enabled web design. Will you make use of an app -- or use responsive design to ensure that your website can be viewed cleanly on any device, on any screen size? To learn more from the experts, attend our upcoming webcast "Creating a Responsive Design Framework for University Websites."
Finally, make sure that you have a plan for collecting feedback on your pilot project and for responding to that feedback.