In our monthly blog series Mobile Leader of the Month, we sit down with organizations that are creating exceptional mobile experiences.
This month we spoke with Ryan Seilhamer, Instructional Designer at University of Central Florida with accountability for overseeing the university’s mobile platform. In 2014, Ryan assumed responsibility of the UCF Mobile App Project. He found that the university’s app was behind those of other universities and was not meeting the needs of current students. He then shepherded the selection, vetting, and adoption of a new mobile app platform—Modo Labs—to improve the mobile experience on campus.
Since Ryan assumed oversight of the app, usage has grown from 2 million to 18 million page hits a year, and downloads are up 36% year over year. Furthermore, the app surpassed 167,000 downloads.
About the organization:
UCF, located in Orlando, FL, is one of the largest universities in the U.S with over 64,000 students enrolled. It’s ranked a best-value university by The Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s, and close to half of the student population graduates without any debt.
The university has 13 colleges and over 200 degrees, which are offered on its main campus, Rosen College of Hospitality Management, UCF College of Medicine, online, and through its 10 regional locations.
Student population: 64,318
Please introduce yourself and your role with the app.
My name is Ryan Seilhamer. I am an Instructional Designer and at the University of Central Florida and manage the university’s mobile platform. The majority of my time is spent working with UCF faculty to design and develop online courses. In this faculty role, I research mobile technologies and how they are used on campus and in the classroom. My role with the UCF Mobile app is the product manager. I oversee every aspect of the app. This includes planning, production, and outreach. I also focus on building partnerships to enhance campus life and adding value to the UCF experience for everyone in the community.
How did the app come to launch?
The app was launched in 2011 on iOS and in 2012 on Android. At the time, most institutions, including UCF, were new to native mobile apps and still exploring the possibilities. The first versions of the app had four modules and didn’t include much relevant information. Over the last six years, we have learned a lot from our users, other institutions, and our partners to make the app you see today.
That’s how the app started, but I can talk about Modo [UCF’s current platform] a lot more because I was heavily involved in this process.
I evaluated our mobile app offerings in 2014 and quickly noticed that the current mobile platform wasn’t truly meeting our needs. We needed a new, modern, and robust mobile platform for the whole UCF community. It was also important to select a platform that would let us open development to the entire community to partner and share parts of the app. We also wanted a mobile platform to better communicate with the UCF community. After over a year of research, we found that Modo Labs best met these needs.
The app is filled with lots of useful modules. Which ones are most popular with students?
The most popular modules focus around information and courses, especially online courses. This includes our portal, called myUCF; Webcourses@UCF, also known as Canvas; and Knights Email, which is the student email. On a day-to-day basis, these are the most popular apps, because students need them day in and day out to stay on task, get the information they require, and to be able to interact with their course work. The app includes other modules that are popular, which focus more on student life and getting around. We include a campus map with over 700 points of interest and shuttle tracking; and in the fall we released available parking for most of the garages, which has been well received.
We offer a good list of modules. Some are more popular than others, but we’re always evaluating them. We want to focus on the things that students want when they’re on the go. They can open their phone and get the information or service right away.
You often have timely information in the app. When the Modo app launched, you had cool screens for Pegasus Palooza, then for Homecoming. When you promote these events in the app, is it a collaborative effort?
When we started using Modo, we said, “We need to start working on events. This will help us bring even more value to the app.”
Pegasus Palooza was a partnership with First-Year Experience (FYE), and our first event in the app. They have an event every year for incoming freshmen, but anyone can be involved. It’s focused on the first week of school to get students and freshmen acclimated to campus, learn about services, have fun, and enjoy student life.
We reached out to FYE, and they were receptive. It’s a great partnership because they were able to include all of the graphics and get all of the information, and they were able to put together a design.
The Homecoming app was a partnership with UCF’s Student Government Association, in the Office of Student Involvement. What’s great about Homecoming is that it’s an enormous event, and includes many students and faculty on campus and alumni. There are so many resources behind this event that it was easy to get everything we needed to make a great app experience. The students and coordinators were so enthusiastic and full of ideas. We didn’t just want to make the app a companion to the event but part of it. Inside the app, we included swag bag giveaways, ticket opportunities, and concert announcements.
What was really great is that they have a skit night—it’s called Knights Got Talent—where they do a talent show. They wanted to have a People’s Choice Award, so we opened up a module in the app for 10 minutes during the end of the show, and students used the app and voted right there. We had nearly 1,000 votes in 10 minutes. Then we closed the module, and they went and announced the winner onstage. It was awesome because we were able to give students a reason to use the app during the event for the first time.
For all our partners, since we don’t charge them for the use of the app, we ask for them to promote the app with their channels. We offer a marketing kit and any information they need to market the app most effectively.
I noticed that there are in-app banners about location-based notifications. Can you talk about those?
Right now we’re exploring. We always look at the technology that’s available, especially from Modo Labs and think, “How can this be used?” We talk to other campuses, notably Notre Dame, about how they’ve used the technology.
During the spring, we have a pilot running in our library in the Technology Commons. These notifications are focused on giving the users more information about their surroundings, and exposing them to services and resources that they may not be aware of already. For instance, there are iPad checkouts on the third floor of the library. So, when students get to the third floor, we send a message that says, “Do you need an iPad? Go check one out.” They may not have known these resources existed before, so we want to make students more aware.
We have an annual event in April called Knight-Thon. It’s a dance marathon to raise money and awareness for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Students stay in the CFE Arena for 24 hours straight, so we used beacons to ping students when different events were going on and there was relevant information to share. Our initial feedback from this technology has been positive.
We’re looking to do a scavenger hunt soon to bring more awareness to the services and departments on campus. It’s still coming together, but we’re seeking to bring different departments together that will have beacons at their locations with different information. We’re using prizes as a motivation to get students to interact in the scavenger hunt. We’re really excited about it and can’t wait to see how it plays out.
There was a survey in the app recently. What was the purpose, and what do you plan to do with the results?
It’s important for us not to assume what users want. I’ve led numerous mobile studies over the last eight years that covers much more than the UCF Mobile app. It’s important to learn about the whole picture, which doesn’t just include student life, but teaching and learning, communication, and partnership.
This was the first time we have run a survey specifically inside the app. The survey was focused on communication; we really want to see how students feel about communication at UCF right now. This includes how they preferred to get general, important, and emergency information from UCF. So far, the results have been very fascinating, and we hope to share those soon. We know Modo has [Modo] Communicate for general and personalized notifications. We have been using push notifications and have location-based notifications, so we really wanted to get a better idea of how students felt about this.
The survey also focused on possible new features in the app. Since we have very limited resources, it’s important we focus on tasks that bring the most return on investment. We found that mobile student ID cards and event tickets inside the mobile app were seen most favorably, while personalized notifications were also popular.
Thank you, Ryan. We look forward to seeing what else is in store this year for UCF Mobile!BACK TO BLOG