Report: Mobile app use exploding on campus

The number of private universities deploying mobile apps rose to 50 percent from 42 percent in fall 2010.

Colleges and universities have made significant gains in deploying mobile applications over the past year, according to the 2011 Campus Computing Survey, the largest continuing study of higher-education technology use in the United States. But the survey also suggests that colleges have been slow to move key operational and research functions to cloud computing, and budget constraints continue to affect campus ed-tech services.

The 2011 survey shows big gains in the percentage of schools deploying mobile apps, and these gains appear across all types of institutions.

More than half (55 percent) of public universities have activated mobile apps or plan to do so in the coming year, compared to a third (33 percent) in fall 2010. Public four-year colleges also posted good gains (44 percent in 2011, up from 18 percent in fall 2010), while the numbers more than tripled among community colleges (41 percent this year vs. 12 percent last fall).

Private institutions also saw gains in mobile app deployment. The number of private universities deploying mobile apps rose to 50 percent from 42 percent in fall 2010, and among private four-year colleges, the number rose from 25 percent to 44 percent.

“Several factors explain these dramatic gains,” said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project. “Students come to campus expecting to use mobile apps on their smart phones and tablets to navigate campus resources and use campus services. Also important is that compared to a year ago, more firms—both LMS and ERP providers—now offer mobile options for their campus clients.”

Green, who unveiled the 2011 survey’s findings during the EDUCAUSE educational technology conference in Philadelphia, noted that some ed-tech providers now offer free mobile apps, which means the cost of going mobile has changed dramatically in the past year.

Other ed-tech providers have launched services to help colleges and universities create their own campus apps. For instance, AT&T demonstrated a service called MEAP during EDUCAUSE. MEAP, which stands for “Mobile Enterprise Application Platform,” helps colleges tie their back-office systems together and make these services available as a mobile app.

Mobile app creation “is now faster and cheaper than it’s ever been,” said AT&T’s Kevin Carmen.

A mobile app that AT&T helped Indiana University create, called IU Mobile, lets students access their class pages through IU’s learning management system (LMS); post and respond to classified ads; view campus maps, sports scores and schedules, and IU-related news; reserve time in campus computing labs; and much more.

Slow movement to the cloud?

Despite all the hype about cloud computing and its potential cost savings for schools, the 2011 survey suggests that colleges and universities have been slow to move mission-critical operations to the cloud.

Just 4.4 percent of survey participants said their campus has moved or is in the process of moving to cloud computing for ERP services, and only 6.5 percent have moved to cloud computing for storage, archiving, or business continuity services. Although cloud computing can help researchers quickly scale up the resources they need for high-performance computing activities, just 2.4 percent of public universities and 6.6 percent of private universities report migrating these activities to cloud computing.

Other cloud services post slightly higher numbers. For example, more than one-fourth (28 percent) of respondents said they’ve moved or are moving their LMS application to cloud computing, and 11 percent said their institution is using cloud-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) services.

“The major ERP providers have been slow to offer cloud services to their campus clients,” said Green. Although the potential cost savings might seem compelling, “trust really is the coin of the realm: Many campus IT officers are not ready to migrate mission-critical data, resources, and services to the cloud services offered by their IT providers.”

Mixed data on budget cuts

According to the survey, more than a third (36 percent) of colleges and universities experienced a budget cut in central IT services for the current academic year, down from 42 percent last year and 50 percent in fall 2009.

The percentage of public institutions reporting budget cuts fell slightly in fall 2011, although the number that experienced budget cuts still remains significant. For example, just over half (55 percent) of public universities reported budget cuts for central IT services this year. Private, nonprofit institutions generally fared better than their public counterparts: one-fourth (25 percent) of private universities reported IT budget cuts this year, about the same as a year ago (24 percent) but still well below the 57 percent posted in 2009.

“As was the case last fall, the new survey data provide a only modicum of good news about IT budgets. Yes, fewer institutions experienced budget reductions this year than last,” said Green. “But the budget cuts continue for many institutions, and the proportion of public campuses experiencing IT budget reductions remains high. The consequences are particularly daunting for community colleges, where enrollments are exploding while the financial resources for IT services to support online and on-campus courses are eroding.”

Other survey results

The survey also documents an increasingly competitive market for LMS software on campus. The percentage of respondents using various versions of Blackboard (including Angel and WebCT) as their standard LMS software fell to 51 percent in 2011, compared to 57 percent last year and 71 percent in 2006.

As Blackboard’s market share has fallen, its chief LMS competitors—Desire2Learn, Moodle, and Sakai—have all gained market share during this period. Meanwhile, several new LMS providers, including Epsilen, Instructure, and Loudcloud, among others, are generating significant interest as well.

“The campus LMS market remains a textbook example of a mature market with immature, or evolving, technologies, and that’s a prescription for a volatile market,” said Green. “Blackboard’s plans to retire legacy LMS products have been a catalyst for many institutions to review their campus LMS strategy and to evaluate other LMS applications.”

Higher-education technology leaders remain bullish on the future of eBooks. Ninety percent said they agree or strongly agree that “eBook content will be an important source for instructional resources in five years,” up from 87 percent in 2010 and 76 percent in 2009. Additionally, more than four-fifths (82 percent, up from 79 percent in 2010 and 66 percent in 2009) agree or strongly agree that “eBook readers … will be important platforms for instructional content in five years.”

“The platform options, market opportunities, and enabling technologies for eBooks continue to improve,” said Green. But he noted that for most students, eBooks do not yet offer a competitive alternative to used textbooks. He cited a recent survey by Student Monitor in which a fifth of undergraduates opted for a used book priced the same as a new textbook, a rented textbook, or a digital textbook—suggesting that many students see added value in a textbook that other students have already highlighted and annotated.

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