It’s your first day as a college student. You have three minutes to get to class, and you think the brick building in front of you looks like all the other ones surrounding it.
What do you do?
If you’re on West Virginia University’s campus, you pull out your iPhone or Android-based phone, point it at the building, and the app you’ve downloaded called Layar Reality Browser will tell you whether the building is the site of your very first class.
WVU’s use of an augmented reality-enhanced campus map is one of the many ways the university is staying on the cutting edge of the mobile technology wave.
The Web unit of WVU’s University Relations department has enabled the WVU community to check how many computers are available for use on which floor of a university library or the status of the Personal Rapid Transit system using a mobile-friendly format. Prospective students can even check their application status via text.
These developments in mobile technology aren’t just the leading edge for higher education, says WVU Professional Technologist Dave Olsen. They are ahead of the whole curve.
“It’s extremely, extremely unusual to have the entire mobile ecosystem that we have,” Olsen said. “We have two mobile-optimized websites in the WVU Mobile Web and the mobile version of WVUToday, an iPhone app, as well as the augmented reality-enhanced campus map.”
This ecosystem begins with WVU Mobile Web, which can be accessed from any web-capable cell phone by visiting http://m.wvu.edu. The website is the gateway for a variety of services, including the campus map, campus directory, events calendar and athletic information. Launched in August, the site was recently updated to include a feature that shows computer availability in the libraries.
Since its launch in the fall, WVU Mobile Web has had more than 450,000 page views.
“We feel that if we’re going to go through the effort of making services mobile-friendly that it’s important that we make it as mobile-friendly to as many devices as we can, and the mobile web delivers that,” Olsen said.
WVU Mobile Web can be accessed from an Android-based phone, BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile phone or any other web-capable mobile device.
Building its experience with its first mobile website, the university in April launched a mobile version of its news site WVUToday. It can be accessed directly by visiting http://wvutoday.wvu.edu on a web-capable cell phone, through WVU Mobile Web or through iWVU, the university’s iPhone app.
The WVUToday mobile version is similar to its regular web counterpart but fits better into a variety of phone screens.
“It’s the first site that we’ve taken traditional web content and expanded it to the mobile environment,” Professional Technologist Steve Spriggs said of the mobile WVUToday site.
Cathy Orndorff, director of Web Communications for WVU, said the opportunities for adapting websites to a mobile platform continue beyond WVUToday.
“That’s our first site, and we’ll have to see what we might touch next,” she said.
A facelift also recently came to iWVU, the official iPhone application for WVU. Originally released in August, iWVU’s developer, engineering junior Jared Crawford, rolled out a new version earlier this month. It now includes an updated look, an athletics section and an official university events calendar. The iWVU app is available for free on the iPhone App Store.
The WVU campus map available in the Layar Reality Browser launched two months ago and started out just as a way to see what the Web team could do with augmented reality. The application they came up with can identify a building and give users directions to the buildings they want to visit through using the phone’s internal compass. This app that includes WVU’s campus map is available on the iPhone App Store and in the Android Market.
It’s an example of the university Web unit’s culture of exploration that enables technologists like Olsen and Spriggs to search out the latest developments, tinker with them and roll out a product.
“Whatever technology is out there, we’ve explored it,” Orndorff said. “That’s part of our mission: to explore new technologies.”
The beginnings of WVU’s dabblings with cell phone technology started two years ago by allowing prospective students to check their application status using text messaging. When users text “APPSTATUS” to 41411, they can receive the status of their undergraduate applications.
“If you’ve been accepted, you have that text message on your phone, and you can show your friends,” Orndorff said. “That’s pretty exciting.”
One WVU use of cell phone technology rarely seen outside of Europe and Japan is the QR code. During the Big East basketball tournament, WVU fans were presented with cards and t-shirts that had a bar code-like square graphic printed on them.
When fans pointed a web phone with a QR code reader at the codes, their cell phones immediately transported them to a website that expanded on the university’s promotion.
So why focus on mobile?
The answer, WVU’s Web team says, is that it keeps the WVU community connected.
Vincent Vernet, WVU’s assistant vice president for Branding and Creative Direction, says mobile isn’t optional.
“Mobile is no longer an addition,” he said. “It is the obligation and direction of modern communication. We serve our audience by building tools and delivering information in ways that complement the way they learn, teach and live.”
For WVU’s Web team, it’s a matter of assisting the university’s people as they go about their daily lives.
“We’re just trying to find new ways to deliver useful services and content to students, faculty and staff, and mobile is the obvious next step in accomplishing that goal,” Olsen said.
By Diana Mazzella
WVU News and Information Services
CONTACT: News and Information Services
Follow @wvutoday on Twitter.