Mobile Services Reach Students Where They Are

Mobile Services Reach Students Where They Are


At the beginning of the day, many students check Facebook and their text messages first. And Tompkins Cortland Community College wants to be third on their list.

"They’re just really good at reading and keeping in touch with cell phones," said Marty Christofferson, dean of campus technology. "So we said, ‘How do we take advantage of this?’"

By building a mobile site, mobile apps and a mobile messaging system, Tompkins Cortland Community College uses technology students are comfortable with to help them succeed.

IT team develops mobile site, apps with limited staff

The college wanted to make sure students with all kinds of mobile devices could access information. So the IT team started with a mobile website.

Along with typical items including directions, news and lunch menus, the Web app allows students to check their grades, financial aid and class schedule. But they can’t register for classes on the go because it just wouldn’t work well on a small screen, Christofferson said.

When faculty members log in, they see names and photos of students in their classes from the SunGard PowerCAMPUS database. And in three clicks, they can message students in their classes without knowing their number or email address. 

An application programming interface between the college and the Rave Mobile Safety text messaging system grabs the number and message. Then Rave actually sends out the text to students who sign up for notifications.

In addition to the mobile site, the college already developed an Android mobile app and plans to build an iPhone app. Tompkins Cortland Community College will release both apps at the same time.

The IT department has a ‘super team’ that’s dynamic, creative and excellent, Christofferson said. The department is stretched thin in a lot of places — it has 1 1/2 developers, 1 1/2 system administrators and two guys who fix 1,000 computers.

But the team is doing a great job with mobile. And it recently won first place for its technology initiatives in the small colleges category of the Digital Community Colleges Survey, awarded by the Center for Digital Education and Converge.

Mobile messaging system keeps students on track

And they’re not stopping yet. They’re getting ready to launch a new mobile messaging system called Tracks. Designed around the college’s panther mascot, the system will give students updates on their phone about important stuff.

For example, they might drop a course and fall below the 12 credits they need to be eligible for financial aid. The system would send a status alert saying that their financial aid was in jeopardy and they needed to come to the financial aid office. If they didn’t know about it for a few weeks and lost their financial aid, they may drop out.

Tracks scrubs all the college’s databases for information, including financial aid, student records and the learning management system.

Once it hooks into the ANGEL learning management system, the college hopes to mine data to help students in class. This system is similar to Purdue’s Course Signals app, which tells students how they’re doing in class throughout the semester.

Reminders from Tracks could include "this homework assignment is due soon" or "based on your grades, you’re falling behind. Stop in at the Baker Center for help."

"We’re not trying to be a Facebook," Christofferson said. "I don’t think we want to compete with them, but we are trying to use the same kind of status update thinking."

After folks on campus finish vetting Tracks, it’ll be released and promoted on the mobile site.


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