Crowdsourcing Mobile Apps: How Universities Are Collaborating with Students

Submitted by on Thu, 11/17/16

student_crowdsourcing

An old saying goes: Two heads are better than one. Well, if that’s true, what about 100 heads or, perhaps, a thousand? Universities across the country are employing this very tactic – using the collective brainpower of the campus population to develop new and innovative mobile apps.

Through crowdsourcing, universities are able to engage and motivate a diverse student body to contribute information, ideas, and content for mobile apps that benefit students, faculty, alumni, guests and, prospective students.

Last year, the University of Notre Dame held its first VisitND Challenge, a mobile app contest open to the entire Notre Dame student population, even those with limited technical skills. The challenge was to build a mobile tour for the ND Mobile app that would improve the guest experience. With about an hour of training in Modo Labs’ Kurogo Publisher platform, teams of student non-developers were able to create a powerful mobile app, only previously attainable by professional mobile developers.

“The VisitND Challenge was conceived as a way to engage the student population in technology while also improving the guest experience,” Notre Dame’s mobileND program manager, Matt Willmore, told Campus Technology. “We wanted to build an event that directly involved content creation for the ND Mobile app, but did not require technical ability.”

Another objective of the challenge was finding a creative approach to designing a tour of the campus. And who would be better to devise a tour theme than Notre Dame’s own dedicated, eager and intelligent students? The first-place team incorporated a theme of a history of Notre Dame, while other finalist themes included a campus pilgrimage, dorm life and notable Notre Dame people.

Crowdsourcing is not a new concept. The National Audubon Society has been collecting information from individuals to do an annual census of all the birds in the Western hemisphere since Christmas Day, 1900. However, online crowdsourcing has become increasingly popular in recent years– engaging groups of individuals to voluntarily complete specific tasks, such as generating volumes of information on Wikipedia, writing reviews for Amazon or asking the public to solve scientific problems, and so on.

Many academic institutions are following suit, too. According to EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, a number of institutions have developed platforms that are facilitated by crowdsourcing. By adopting this efficient method of information and content gathering, specific tasks can be completed faster and cheaper than would be otherwise possible.

Let’s Hold a Contest
Another effective way to solve a problem or come up with an innovative approach when no established best-practice solution exists is to hold a contest. Modo Labs did just that in a first-of-its-kind event, The Great Mobile Appathon. The contest challenged students of all majors, from select universities across the United States, to create innovative mobile apps that improve or enhance life on campus. Students were encouraged to come up with app ideas, from academic advising support to content about cultural activities, that would help their peers on campus.

To get started, student teams submitted their app concept proposals. Then selected teams were invited to spend a weekend in October competing against fellow students from their university to create their proposed app by using the no-code Modo Campus Engagement platform .

On top of bragging rights, winning teams received cash prizes. Regional winners were awarded $3,000 and $1,500 for first and second place, respectively. The national winning team walked away with an additional $10,000.

A Crowd-Pleasing App
Arguably, the easiest way to reach out to students is through their mobile devices. At the University of Notre Dame, the ND app has generated more than 50,000 downloads since its 2014 launch.

Through the main ND app, more than a dozen different campus departments have implemented their own modules, including developing their own content and injecting their own budgets to improve and extend the app’s functionality.

In the webinar Mobile Collaboration at Notre Dame, Willmore, the MobileND Program Manager, said crowdsourced information and content in ND Mobile comes from both contributing departments (such as the Security Department, grad school or Research Department) as well as student developers.

By creating a successful app, Willmore aims to give “one really great mobile experience on campus” and continue to innovate and provide content for students, faculty, alumni, guests, prospective students and anybody who would be interested in Notre Dame.

It’s an approach to app crowdsourcing and creation that other colleges and universities may want to consider employing at their own schools.

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