September 28, 2016

Webster mobile app released

During New Student Orientation, Webster University officially released their first version of the Webster mobile app, complete with 13 different sub-applications including access to student schedule, news, and directory.

Digital Marketing and Communication Director Craig Carmichael said the Webster app is not completely finished and never will be.

“With technology, you’re never done, you’re only done for now,” Carmichael said.

Carmichael said the first version Webster app has been downloaded 500 times and he expects that number to climb as the app becomes more advanced and new versions are released. Carmichael and Freeman said there are two more phases currently being discussed about the functions of the app, including the app being able to connect students to other Webster campuses.

Then-senior Carolina Dueñas, who was a member of Student Government Association, presented her own idea for a mobile app at the Spring 2013 Delegate’s Agenda.

“I started with the idea with just an app for just the (University Center), athletics and campus activities. Then when I proposed it to delegates agenda, it became something bigger,” Dueñas said.

Vice President of Information Technology Kenneth Freeman, who responded to the DA presentation, said the mobile app project had already been in the works since the fall semester of that school year. Freeman said when he heard the students present their idea for a mobile app, he saw an opportunity for collaboration with the students.

“I said, ‘Well, this is a meeting of the minds and the best of two worlds,’” Freeman said. “So we said, ‘yeah’, we were looking to do this anyway, so we will do it together. Then, shortly thereafter, we called AT&T and had the students come in and we had a series of planning sessions.”

Freeman, Carmichael, AT&T and Webster faculty met with students to discuss how the app should perform best for the students. The planning sessions began in May of that year and groups met every two-to-three weeks.

Freeman said the meetings were beneficial to students in more ways than one. Freeman said students learned things such as setting a plan, developing and acquiring requirements for the plan, setting a budget and getting it approved.

“Truly, I think the students got more than what they bargained for, in terms of the need of their involvement and their need in the decision making,” Freeman said. “It showed them exactly how people in the business world, or academic world, need to go through to create an initiative and see a conceptual idea and make it a reality.

As the planning sessions developed new ideas and concepts for the mobile app, AT&T mobile labs began to write code for each feature. Assistant professor of Webster’s math and computer science department Dr. Xiaoyuan Suo, whose research involves mobile computing, said code for each of the app’s features is a list of instructions for how the feature should work. Dr. Suo also said that code is different across platforms.

“Pretty much all of the apps are platform dependent,” Dr. Suo said. “If you want to make an app for android, you have to (write code) for android only. It’s actually a lot of work for the programmers.”

Like Webster, The University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) developed their own mobile app with collaboration from students, including monthly meetings during the summer after it was presented in June 2010.

Jana Dawn Bott, the manager for the Mizzou Strategic Project Management Office, said Mizzou’s mobile app was released the following August and since then, has been downloaded over 95,000 times and that number is continuing to grow.

Carmichael said the work behind the scenes doesn’t end with code writing. It also includes making sure the code is clean and making sure the data is secure. Carmichael said he laughs whenever he sees online advertisements for making mobile apps in ten minutes.

“Sure, but what does it do,” Carmichael said. “Even Flappy Bird took ten months to develop and that’s the dumbest mobile app ever created.”

But Dr. Suo said that while not as quickly as technology, code is evolving to become more user friendly.

“(The code) doesn’t change dramatically. If you compare the code from ten years ago to the code we have today, yes there is a change. The code is more human and more understandable to regular people who aren’t from computer science majors,” Dr. Suo said.

While Webster’s mobile app is almost a month old, Freeman said Webster’s mobile app is already a success in two ways. The app project was collaborated with Webster administration, faculty and students and was continually worked on in a joint effort until the official rollout. The second success was the app met the needs they brought forth in the planning sessions.

“The goal here is we want the students to make sure that they keep that app on the first screen (of their smart phones),” Freeman said. “If you have ten screens of apps that you use, we want to be near the front of those 10 pages because, how often do you use the apps?”

Carmichael said he welcomes any feedback from users, which gives the app opportunities to improve.

“With each one of those rollouts and new updates, comes new opportunities and new content, new ways to adapt and new ways to change,” Carmichael said. “And technology changes at the drop of a hat and we need to change with it.”

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