U Manitoba launches student app

Need your grades, library books and bus schedules on the go? There’s an app for that.

The University of Manitoba’s Web Services department has developed a new UManitoba app for iPhone and Android, with a BlackBerry version slated to follow.

The app includes campus news and events, transit information, class schedules and grades, library catalogues and links to the university’s social media accounts.

Both the iPhone and Android versions of the app can be downloaded for free from iTunes and the Android Market.

In a news release, the university says the app is the first of its kind among Manitoba’s post secondary institutions.

“Mobile technology is taking off,” said Michael Marshall, a communications officer at the U of M. “Everybody’s using it. We want to give students the tools in their pocket, the kind of tools they can use on campus.”

Marshall said university officials are excited to be “trendsetters” within the Manitoba university system.

“We just needed to get into the mobile market because of its increasing popularity,” he said. “They’re using their mobile devices instead of laptops and kiosks.”

The app was developed in-house, saving the costs that would come from a third-party developer. Marshall said the university’s Web Services staff did an “outstanding job” in creating it.

“It’s very strong on its own,” he said, though he anticipates the app will add some features, such as integration with Google Street View to help students identify buildings on campus.

Improvements to the app will depend on the student response, which they can deliver through a built-in feedback button in the app, as well as over social media channels.

Already, students say they plan to make effective use of the app.
“Being able to access grades would actually be quite good,” said nursing student Natalie Patterson. “I’m not at home all the time and able to check my grades whenever I want.”

“I would use it all the time,” said computer science major Fahad Alhajjaj. “I usually use the Internet to look at it. Now if there’s an app, why do I need to use the computer? I’ll just use the app.”

Other schools across Manitoba have made different inroads into the expanding telecommunications market.

Peter Tan, a media services technician with the University of Winnipeg, said he does not know of any talk of integrating mobile technology into the student experience there.

“For cell phones, we don’t really have anything right now for any U of W students,” he said. “Everything’s done over Wi-Fi.”

However, he adds, the U of W hasn’t shied away from unique technological improvements in other areas.

“We recently had a Cisco TelePresence centre installed here,” he said, referring to the audiovisual conferencing system introduced in 2006. “Come fall, we’ll actually have three of those centres. It basically allows us to connect to anyone, anywhere in the world, virtually.”

Meanwhile, Red River College’s creative communications program made headlines in 2010 for a requirement that students purchase an app-capable device for use in classes.

Marshall said he expects that sort of incorporation to become popular for schools across the province, “because so many students have smartphones in their pockets.”

“We’ve giving the students something to enhance their experience on campus,” he said. “That’s the thing that’s most exciting.”