College launches mobile app, plans for improvement

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • April 8, 2015

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Emerson released a new app called Emerson Mobile for both iOS and Android devices on April 3. 

“The crux of it, really, is to provide a quicker window into the campus and provide different services or easier to find services,” said Jason Beals, director of web services and the app’s project leader.

The app currently allows users to read updates from Emerson’s website, search the directory, and get notifications for school closings and emergencies. Students can also log in to see their class schedules.

Andrew Tiedemann, vice president for communications and marketing, described it in a campuswide email as a “beta” version, meaning it is not complete and some features are still undergoing testing.

In the near future, the college plans to release an update that will allow students to view their grades and access student news sources, according to Emerson’s website. A subsequent update is planned to customize the app for current students, faculty and staff, and prospective students.

“It should be pretty clear that this is a first step into a larger world,” Beals said. “That’s why we’ve encouraged people to give us feedback, so we know the next parts of the project we need to focus on, to make it work.”

Planning for the app started in December, Beals said. A team of nine Emerson staff members and administrators met and began to define what the initial features of the app were to be. They held focus groups and conducted interviews to gather feedback and establish goals.

The college originally hoped to create an app in 2010, the Beacon reported at the time. This new effort was introduced by President M. Lee Pelton over the summer, Beals told the Beacon in December.

William Gilligan, vice president for information technology, said that in the last few years, the standards for college apps have become clearer.

“It’s easier to understand now, than just a couple of years ago, what people want and expect from a mobile app,” Gilligan said. 

Four years ago, Emerson had contacted a software development company, Modo Labs, but only for exploratory talks, according to Charles Chisholm, the Modo Labs sales representative for the current app.

Emerson kept in touch with the company, and began working again with them in August for the development of this app, Chisholm said. A contract was signed in October.

Beals said that the college chose Modo Labs because the company had the best available platform.

“They are, by far, the leader in higher education app development,” Beals said. “We felt relatively safe going with them.”

Gilligan declined to disclose how much the project cost Emerson.

“It provides the college with an affordable and sustainable solution,” Gilligan said. 

The application is rated as 17+ in Apple’s iOS App Store, ostensibly meaning it’s suitable for users ages 17 and up. This is not because of questionable content, but due to an Apple policy that requires any app that allows unrestricted web browsing, like Emerson’s, to have a 17+ rating. 

The app has been downloaded 463 times from the iOS store and 64 times on the Google Play store, according to Gage. The app is ranked 664th in terms of downloads in the education section of the United States iOS store. 

Beals said he has gotten about 10 comments so far from the feedback form in the app. They address issues accessing Spacebook, the platform Emerson uses to reserve on-campus meeting and event spaces. Beals said that integrating with Spacebook was difficult, but that the team is looking to improve this in the future.

The team also want to integrate Sodexo’s dining menus, Emerson’s maintenance request service, and the platform for checking if on-campus laundry machines are available, according to Emerson’s website. Live streaming of sports games and a platform for student election voting are also listed as future possibilities.

The biggest thing difference in the faculty and staff version, according to Beals, will be a more efficient phone directory.

Loyal Egan, a project manager at Modo Labs, said that the company plans to continue working with Emerson on the app.

“It’s been sort of a partnership of bringing what they want and their vision for the app and connecting it to our capabilities,” Egan said.