GW Mobile app needs updates based on student input

Updated: Nov. 15, 2017 at 3:45 p.m.

Every year, technology becomes a more essential part of college students’ experiences. As the smartphone technology industry continually changes, universities adopt and develop smartphone apps for students to keep up with university news, connect with other students and faculty and find their ways around campus.

GW’s campus app is called GW Mobile and has features like a bus tracker for the Vern Express, a safety alert feature and a list of events on campus. But the lack of engaging features that distinguish GW Mobile from other universities’ apps proves that GW is behind the tech curve.

Media Credit: Cartoon by Annan Chen
Cartoon by Annan Chen

GW Mobile should add a better social media component and a more effective way for users to provide feedback. The app should constantly change to adapt and respond to student needs, rather than remain stagnant like it has, because it would increase the number of users and could be key for a more connected community.

As of now, the University doesn’t seem to have any plans to update the app. But University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said that the University doesn’t rule out updating features in the future.

“The University is planning to continue to support GW Mobile and to add new features and functionality,” Csellar wrote in an email. “The product is part of a partnership between the Division of IT, External Relations and key stakeholders including Academic Technologies and the Registrar.”

When I attended Colonial Inauguration over the summer, some of the CI leaders and upperclassmen told me that they had the GW mobile app on their phones, but they rarely used it. I was surprised, because I figured technologically savvy students would be eager to use an app. But few students use the app because GW Mobile does not respond effectively to the needs of its users: It does not have a social media component and most GW students have relatively no say in updating the app.

Other universities have apps that more effectively use student input and features, and GW should use these apps as an example. Student groups at Boston University connect with app developers to add and modify features on the university’s app. And the California State University Los Angeles’ app provides social media accounts for users, so students can connect with organizations and other students.

At Boston University, developers work directly with students to to modify apps available to BU students These developers work with the Global App Initiative – a student group that educates students on how to create apps. The Global App Initiative even helps student organizations at BU create their own apps. The integration of a student group working directly with app developers shows the university’s commitment to keeping the app up to date according to students’ needs.

Unfortunately, GW Mobile doesn’t encourage direct communication between developers and users. Although there has been some student engagement – students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have worked with officials to make changes to the GW app – there isn’t a way for ordinary students to give feedback or create their own features. Officials should encourage student organizations and individual students to suggest features that they want to see in the app or support a program, like the Global App Initiative, to help students create their own apps.

At California State University Los Angeles, the “Cal State LA App” provides students with elements that are useful for everyday campus life. For example, the app has a “Be Social” wall where students can create profiles and interact with peers. Students use the wall to ask questions to upperclassmen, sell or buy books and items from other students, meet new people, upload pictures and comment on university issues. Students like using social media to connect with fellow students, and this element of the app satisfies that preference.

GW Mobile offers a similar feature to this called “social,” but the feature isn’t designed in a way for students to communicate with each other. Instead, the feature links students to GW’s Twitter and Facebook posts. The design merely directs students to other apps that they already use and draws them away from GW Mobile.

Administrators obviously wanted to create something that benefited students in the digital age, but the app’s features definitely need some changes, if GW wants to keep up with other universities’ more user-friendly apps. With the addition of some more unique features, GW Mobile could potentially be an integral part of students’ experiences.

Rachel Armany, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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