Providing university students with access to useful mobile apps is certainly a good way to enhance their learning experience. The Australian National University (ANU) recently took this one step further by adding augmented reality technology to its iANU mobile application.
As part of a series of articles on new technology in tertiary education, CIO Australia spoke to Peter Nikoletatos, CIO at the ANU, about the mobile initiatives that are enhancing the services the university offers to staff and students.
The iANU iPhone app, which was released in February this year, allows students to navigate around the university campus, access online resources, lecture notes and recordings, and collaboration tools, It also lets them read the latest university news and find out about upcoming events.
But Nikoletatos wanted to add a simple navigation feature to the app that would help new students find their way to lectures on time.
“If you are on the campus, you can use the augmented reality function - you just point it around in 360 degree navigation, and using GPS technology, [you can] work out where buildings are in relation to you,” he said. “You can simply find a building as you rotate around and it will tell you exactly how far away it is from where you are currently standing.”
Nikoletatos also plans to add more built-in learning management tools in the application for students to access new material on their mobiles before they arrive to their class so that they can spend more time in the classroom working collaboratively and practically with other students.
“We will see a lot more of our streaming, a lot more of our content being pushed more and more down to mobile devices.
“What we are looking at is kind of ‘flipping the classroom’. The idea of course is to use technology to connect with other audiences around the world or around Australia. We are in the early stages of designing that. We are hoping to make an announcement later on in the year about some of the work we are doing in this space.”
Nikoletatos said the augmented reality feature of the app was built around the iPhone because the university has a high percentage of iPhone users. However, an Android version of the app has been made available.
Device agnosticism and responsive Web design
Nikoletatos made the university’s online portals "device agnostic" due to the increasing number of different devices in the market and to avoid limiting students' access to content online.
“We don’t take the approach of locking down devices. We try to provide an infrastructure environment that allows users to connect in a ubiquitous, high availability, highly reliable environment so they can use any device. What we want to focus on is actually delivering information to them regardless of what end user device they use.”
Using responsive Web design, Nikoletatos was able to quickly design content across multiple form factors and have it broken down into bits so that students would not be overwhelmed with too much information.
“It has to be formatted in a way that is short and sharp. We don’t expect students to read large amounts of content [at once] on their devices.”
However, increasing bandwidth and wireless access points around a large university campus remains a challenge. With about 15,000 students, most of which hold up to three devices per user, the pressure on the Wi-Fi network infrastructure quickly builds up, Nikoletatos said.
“The biggest challenge of course is demand. People want to be able to use the device anywhere on the campus at any time. And we have to play a little bit of catch up with some hotspots around where we don’t have enough connectivity.”
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