Prompted by many student requests and support from Bob Lim, vice president for the Division of Information Technology, the UTPA team at Internet services, led by its director Kumar Raman, began the move toward the development of phone apps. Raman said the popularity of smart phones is increasing. Based on more than 2,000 student survey responses, 50 percent of those students own a smart phone, therefore the department felt it was important that the University join the market trend and provide mobile computing for students, faculty, staff, parents and others.
"Through our surveys and meetings with Student Government Association, we found that many of our students are using smart phones and are interested in seeing information about the University made available through their mobile devices," said Raman. "Websites used to be the thing to have, but today mobility is key with the latest information always available at your fingertips. In addition, smart phones and tablets are expected to have an explosive growth in upcoming years."
It has been a seven month process to design and develop the phone apps, and to acquire the review and approval from the various app stores. The apps are free to download on all platforms: iPhone and Android. Raman said the apps are specifically created for mobile devices, use less bandwidth and can be loaded quicker than a regular website, while still being user friendly.
"This is a new and exciting place to be," Raman said. "We want people to be able to get our information and services anywhere, anytime, from a platform that's easy to understand and that they are already comfortable using."
Raman said the phone apps are different from a regular website, in that they work directly with the features on the phone and are more interactive. Those who download these apps will have the opportunity to enjoy the key modules that access the following: UTPA maps, which use the Global Positioning System (GPS) element of the phone to let you know where you are on campus and which direction to go in order to find a particular building; faculty and staff directories that launch the phone dialer, directly connecting to an office or department, in addition to storing the number in the phone's contact list; course catalogs that display class descriptions, times and locations; and library resources that allow the user to search for books, periodicals, journals and more, using the library catalog.
The apps will also connect to UTPA news, updated Bronc Notes, and student-run publications; a calendar of events, which lists important academic deadlines, and events on campus; and UTPA athletics, a module that gives users game schedules, up-to-the-minute scores and all the latest standings.
"We don't anticipate people having trouble using the apps," Raman said. "We have tried to make this as seamless and user friendly as possible."
During their development, each phone app was demonstrated to students, giving them the opportunity to test features and usability of the apps. Raman said throughout the demonstrations he saw a lot of smiles and excitement from students who appeared to be glad that something like this was being delivered by UTPA to them.
The launch in spring is only the completion of phase one. Raman and his team will continue to work toward phase two which will include new app features and improvements to the already existing elements. For example, students will be able to see the University shuttles moving through campus in real time and view shuttle schedules, pickups and drop off sites. Students, faculty and staff can also look forward to having access to Blackboard on their mobile devices as well.
A Blackberry version and a mobile web version of the app for those who do not have smart phones are also forthcoming.
"There are a few new things we are working on right now and we are excited about entering into phase two and adding new features," Raman said. "We want to constantly be releasing new and improved features for our users."
For more information on the iPhone and Android apps or to download the application, visit www.utpa.edu/mobile.