How Purdue University’s Mobile Apps are Increasing Student Engagement

Purdue Mobile Apps
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For several years, educators have seen a steady increase in the number of smartphones and tablets students bring into the classroom. Rather than worry about the increased opportunity for distraction the devices bring with them, Purdue University chose to see this new influx of technology as full of educational potential.

Says Kyle Bowen, the Director of Informatics, “There was this great opportunity where we could capitalize on this trend to help overcome common instructional challenges.” So, he set to work talking to colleagues to identify common instructional problems that could be solved with the development of mobile apps.

Purdue students and faculty now have free access to seven different apps, all designed to add value to the educational process.

  • Hotseat – Lets students ask questions and make comments during a lecture in real time, without interrupting the instructor. This makes it easier for students not inclined to speak up during class to participate, and allows for continued engagement between class sessions.
  • Doubletake – Helps students create and easily submit video assignments. It also offers the option of sharing videos with the whole class and commenting on other students’ work, while keeping the work private from the open web.
  • Jetpack – Works as a publishing platform for faculty to distribute course materials electronically to students.
  • Passport – Enables professors to award students digital badges that demonstrate their proficiency in certain skills, or their achievement of set learning objectives.
  • Mixable – Uses tools already familiar to and commonly used by most students, such as Facebook and Dropbox, to provide a platform for developing communities and sharing resources with other students.
  • Backdraft – Gives professors the opportunity to incorporate twitter into a lecture, by planning relevant tweets in advance and publishing them at the appropriate moment of the presentation.
  • Green Notes – Developed to aid in field research for students in Costa Rica, this app provides information on native plants and lets students share and tag photos with GPS information.

Bowen says the apps take approximately four months each to develop, and often evolve after their initial release based on user feedback. He never knows exactly how professors are likely to use the apps, and is quick to encourage experimentation.

“We make them hackable, so [faculty] can get really creative in what they do with them,” he says. As a result, professors have found many different ways to incorporate the technology into the classroom and their assignments to improve student experience.

One of the benefits mobile technology provides is an expectation of simplicity. Users don’t expect a lot of features and complicated functionality. On the contrary, more students and faculty are likely to use these apps because they don’t require much time and effort to learn. This makes for a simpler development process. The developers can focus on solving a particular problem well, and then move on to the next app.

Purdue’s faculty and students now have access to a range of new tools to creatively incorporate into the learning process. Bowen says they hope to be able to make the apps available to other educators as well over time. By bringing educational tools to students where they’re already spending their time — on mobile devices and social media — Purdue provides opportunities for increased student engagement.

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