A Handy App

Ever had a bit of spare time which you could use for study but you are not near your computer, or in a location with Wifi? The answer may be on the way.


As a new member of the Senate Reference Group, due to my role as the Faculty Association Representative (FAR) for Business and Law, I was given the opportunity to see a demonstration of an exciting new ‘OU Study’ app that the Online Student Experience team are developing.

I will start by confessing to be a bit of a technophobe, my six-year-old iPhone is still way ahead of my abilities, so it was with some trepidation that I found myself in a room in the Betty Boothroyd Library on the Milton Keynes Campus together with 7 other students who actually knew what they were doing. If you are expecting a cogent, accurate report on this development, I would urge you to await a post from one of them. If you are a slightly nervous, perhaps anxious student looking for whatever is available to help you with your studies, please read on.

 

A first look at the app...

A lovely lady called Davina led us through the background to the development of this app. I am old enough to want to write "Application' but I will show I am really down and with the youngsters by resisting. The Online Student Experience team look after the study and module side of the website, asking themselves if what they provide is enough for students and what else could they give us. From this came the idea for an app.

The first question was: do we need an app? We already have the website accessible from a PC or mobile device such as a tablet or a smarter phone than mine. We also have alternative formats for the material, something called OU Anywhere and, on Android devices, an unofficial Student Home app developed by an IT student from the OU. We also have, in some dark, almost forgotten recesses something called "books' if rumours are to be believed. Well, OU Anywhere is expensive to maintain and needs to be replaced, the unofficial app is no longer updated and 'books' are so last century that there is demand for an app that meets what students need.

At this stage the STEM leaning students were provided with some statistics which proved that we like apps over browser accessed content on our mobile devices. The figures appear to be conclusive. The inevitable focus groups were listened to, interviews undertaken, workshops organised and feedback analysed to provide conclusive evidence. With our busy lifestyles we need information on the go and don’t always have the luxury of sufficient dedicated study time at home although we may get shorter periods of opportunity at other times of our day. What we need is the experience of the full module website on our mobile phones, but not something that fills up our limited memory to the exclusion of equally important apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. This companion app is designed to fill this need.

The practical demonstration of the beta version of the OU Study app allayed my fears of having to learn a new process. On opening, I saw the familiar timeline, although it was Davina's module and not any subject in my faculty. It worked just like the online version although I would expect it to be a bit slower if it is used over 4G rather than Wi-Fi, and we were warned that some of the content will link to the mobile version of the website, as the activities are more complex, therefore not really suitable for an app. For a lot of these, it would likely be more suitable to conduct the activity on a desktop or laptop, but people can access/see it on their mobile device and make the decision for themselves about where to complete it. The overall feedback was very positive although some of the more tech savvy attendees did suggest minor tweaks, mainly around accessibility.

In summary, I think this is going to be a real asset to time-poor students who have to fit in studying when the opportunity arises, which may not be when they are sitting in their usual place of study with their usual laptop or tablet to hand. The launch of the first 20 modules is being planned for September 2019, with the Online Student Experience team working hard to roll out all modules by September 2020, and I for one will be downloading it.

Matt Porterfield

Faculty Association Representative for the Faculty of Business and Law


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