A smartphone revolution

Dean Dickinson explains how the smartphone revolution will help universities and colleges improve student retention

Over the past few weeks, universities have been publishing timetables for the new academic year. Most timetables have been created electronically using software or spreadsheets based systems and the majority have been published online. However, relatively few timetables have been published to students and staff via their smartphones and it is this technology that has the most to offer in terms of improving a student’s learning experience and reducing education drop-out rates.

Smartphone use is now ubiquitous. In June 2013, Deloitte published the findings of research revealing that 85% of generation Z – those aged 16 to 24 – own a smartphone. The majority of students have grown up in a time when smartphone use is part of their everyday lives. Using this technology to engage with them and enable them to collaborate with their peers and teaching staff should be a priority for every academic institution. The publication of static, read-only timetable information via websites which can be accessed by smartphones is no longer enough.

According to new research published in April 2014 by Sylke Schnepf, a lecturer in social statistics at the University of Southampton, the UK has the lowest drop-out rate in Europe. Despite this, Schnepf’s research states that students who drop-out in the UK are likely to be more disadvantaged in the labour market compared to those in the rest of Europe.

Students drop-out for a variety of reasons; for many, the pressure of juggling their academic commitments with the need to work simply becomes too much for them. Institutions that provide a timetable to students via their smartphones and then provide continuous updates about lecture times, locations and assignment deadlines are improving an essential service that helps alleviate this pressure by enabling better organisation.

Smartphone technologies enable academic staff and students to collaborate effectively; allowing them to overlay diaries and share course information quickly and easily. Last minute changes to lecture times and locations, for instance, can be communicated immediately and course tutors can also remind students of assignment priorities and deadlines.

The University of Westminster recently used timetabling system, CMIS, to prepare and its timetable for the entire 2014/15 academic year and publish via CMISGo to students’ and staff members’ smartphones. This is the first time in the University’s 175-year history that it has been able to publish its timetable for all three semesters at the start of the academic year. As a result, students can view their commitment months in advance and plan their lives around this information. Issues like assignment deadline and timetable clashes can be resolved long before they have the potential to cause problems.

There are also practical benefits of using mobile technology from an institution’s point of view. Self-service room booking, for instance, can relieve pressure on administrative teams by allowing students and staff to reserve teaching and study space via their smartphones. They can book lecture theatres, seminar and study space laboratories and studios remotely, without the need to involve administrative staff and long before the resources are needed.

Information is automatically shared with administrative staff and they have complete visibility of resource bookings and updates at all times via their timetabling system. This improves efficiency across the board, eliminates any possible double booking or space disputes and enables staff to plan resource allocation for commercial partners – an increasingly important source of revenue for most universities and colleges.

Even when timetables are being published over the coming weeks, they will be subject to change following student enrolment and then subject to further changes throughout the academic year. By harnessing the power of smartphones in order to improve timetabling and resource management efficiencies, universities and colleges can make lives easier for students and staff.

Electronic timetabling is now commonplace and has been key to providing students with online course information on a basic level in recent years. However, it will be through the use of smartphones that universities and colleges will be able to engage with students most effectively, improving their learning experience and helping them achieve their full academic potential.

Dean Dickinson is managing director of Advanced Business Solutions