Palo Alto, California’s Stanford University — the first college to develop an app for the iPhone — continues to be at the forefront of using mobile technology to augment the university experience, writes Sherrie Negrea at edcetera. Higher education continues to tighten its embrace on technologies online and mobile, but tales of Stanford’s initiatives show that the path to utility is frought with challenges.
Stanford students in conjunction with the university began developing an app — iStanford — but quickly found broader success. They formed their own company, Terriblyclever Design, and scaled their efforts to universities nationwide — effort rewarded with their company’s purchase by ed-tech giant Blackboard.
At first the app was simple with limited functionality and 4 sections, but successive versions brought that number up to 28:
“The university’s original iPhone app had four tiles: the course catalog, a student directory, maps and athletic information. In its next iteration, the number of tiles grew to 28 with functions that allowed students to access real-time information about the Stanford shuttle service, campus trivia, student demographics, and university events.”
That mission creep proved to be difficult to manage, say developers. Some tiles required a significant amount of data collection and maintenance — tasks that strained resources beyond a reasonable point.
The solution was to scale back the app to eliminate unnecessary, unpopular, or unsustainable tiles to about a dozen, less than half of the app’s peak.
Along the way came the popular iPad, which offered functionality beyond what the iPhone allowed. Embracing the larger, more powerful device — part e-reader, part computer — opened up possibilities for collaboration and utility beyond the initial vision for the mobile phone app.
“Of the 12 tiles on the iPad app are several that are not available on the iPhone. One is an ePortfolio provided by Pathbrite, a San Francisco company, which allows students to share term papers or class projects with potential employers.”
Developing useful, efficient apps that students will actually utilize and find valuable is a big, continuous project — and Stanford’s innovators recognize this. That’s why they want to spread the message and foster conditions on campus that bring more thought leaders and apps to the student marketplace.
“Another new function that will launch this summer is iStanford +,which will allow students to upload apps they’ve developed. Black is calling it an “app incubator” that will encourage students to create cutting-edge innovation.”
Many will fail for any of a host of reasons. They may become obsolete quickly, or absorbed into something with greater functionality; they may prove to be unsustainable and simply not worth the effort and resources. Such is the reality of tech entrepreneurship both inside education and out.
But some will succeed and will add value to the campus experience, advance the mobile technology sector, and open up the future for Stanford’s most innovative students.