AACSB BizEd Magazine profiles Beedie Mobile: What’s App-enin’ At B-Schools

Nov 21, 2011

The following article was originally published in the November/December issue of BizEd Magazine, the leading voice of business education, published by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall.

Today, smartphone and tablet usage among business students is almost a given. To reach students where they live—on their mobile devices— more business schools are launching their own mobile campus applications. But as with any school initiative, designing a great institutional app takes careful consideration. Educators should be mindful of several steps and possibilities as they tackle the process:

Choosing objectives. Successful mobile campus apps serve a triple function—they build community, expand awareness of the school, and keep people informed. But they must do so without bombarding users with unneeded information. For that reason, business schools are defining their intended audience, choosing features, and outlining their objectives carefully before they jump into an app’s design. In that way, they can ensure that users find their apps interesting and valuable.

Photo: The Beedle School distributed promotional T-shirts that promoted its new campus mobile app as part of a student engagement contest. Each shirt has a QR code on the back that, when scanned with a mobile phone, takes the user to information about the app.

“We didn’t want to replicate or redeliver information that is already offered by other apps,” says Derek Moscato, director of communications for Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. “We didn’t want our app to be an overt recruitment tool, such as a digital brochure.”

Columbia Business School in New York, New York, released its iPhone app this summer, after taking six months to refine, test, and deploy it. Its goal for the tool was to help make students’ academic experiences as positive as possible. The app that resulted includes What’s App-enin’ At B-Schools searchable directories, campus maps, and details on campus events, club activities, and course listings. It also allows students to gather course assignments and materials in one place and receive campus safety alerts.

ESCP Europe wanted its iPhone app to connect its five campuses in Paris, France; London, England; Madrid, Spain; Berlin, Germany; and Torino, Italy. “We wanted the application to speak not only to students and alumni, but also to people interested in our conferences and the expertise of our professors,” says Hélène Allaire, the school’s events and social media manager. ESCP Europe’s app includes news, a monthly calendar of events, a course portfolio, information about faculty and research, locations of its campuses and partner universities, and a photo gallery. Students also can use the app to join the school’s online communities on various social media networks.

This summer, Hult International Business School, with campuses in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, released Hult Connect, a free mobile app for Apple devices that specifically targets Hult’s alumni network. Hult Connect allows former students to find other alums who live and work in their cities, so they can maintain relationships more easily. The business school can use the app to send news about alumni events and reunions.

Teaching with apps. The design of a school’s app also can offer an educational experience for students. That was the case for the Beedie School. A team of five SFU computer science and business students created Beedie’s app as a 13-week project for an interdisciplinary course, “Foundations of Innovation” in 2010.

Jan Kietzmann, who teaches the course, planned to make iPhone app design a general focus for the course. But he says it was a “natural progression” to shift the focus to creating a Beedie School app. The team was guided in the project by Kietzmann; Moscato; Dan Shapiro, the dean; and Andrew Gemino, associate dean of undergraduate programs and associate professor of management information systems. After the course ended, Moscato continued to work with the students to perfect the app before its release five months later in spring 2011.

“Although the project was introduced to the students from ‘up top,’ the students really loved the idea and took it upon themselves to identify where and how an app could help improve their lives as students,” says Kietzmann.

The students decided that the Beedie School app should be an information hub. They wanted it to integrate the school’s Twitter and Facebook feeds with links to announcements about current research from school faculty and graduate students, says Justin Lee, a member of the student team.

Getting the word out. How well a school promotes its app is almost as important as how well the app is designed. These schools let their communities know about the app via publications, electronic newsletters, and Web sites, as well as at school events and student orientations. But they also emphasize that because word-of-mouth is so important, more creative approaches may be in order.

For example, it was a student working as an intern in the Beedie School’s marketing and communications office who suggested launching a student-directed campaign, says Moscato. The office acted on her advice, distributing promotional T-shirts with QR codes for the app as part of a student engagement contest. It also created postcards featuring the app and handed them out to incoming freshmen at the beginning of the school year.

Refining designs. ESCP Europe views its first campus app as a work in progress, says Allaire. She has included her contact information at the bottom of the ESCP Europe app’s download page with a note asking for feedback. She already is making adjustments for the app’s next version. Moscato uses Google Analytics to track how many users download Beedie’s app. Since its launch in early June through August, it had received 9,500 page views. He plans to track how students use the app to inform the design of future iterations.

A school might be tempted to pack its first app with as many elements as possible. But overloading an app with bells and whistles that students might not use could decrease its functionality and impact, says Glenn Wiebalck, associate director of technology operations, information and technology group, and interim CIO at Columbia. “Don’t try to do too much initially,” he advises. Instead, start with a few features that students say they want most—and then test, test, test to make sure those features work flawlessly before full deployment. That approach, says Wiebalck, is “how you’ll gain momentum for future releases.”

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