IT Department Introduces College's First Mobile Campus App
Issue   |   Wed, 10/29/2014 - 01:41

The college announced on Oct. 21 that the new Amherst Campus app is available for download from the Apple Store and Google Play. Since the announcement, the app has been downloaded more than 700 times.

The Amherst Campus app is available for free and features a home page through which students can quickly check up on their AC dollars balance, campus events, Moodle, latest campus news, PVTA bus schedule, and the Valentine dining menu for the day.

The programmers involved in the project were Senior Programmer Anita Rao, Web Programmer James Reese and Web System Administrator and Programmer Daniel Wilga.

Development of the app was guided by students and by the Association of Amherst Students, particularly AAS Vice President Juan Delgado Montes ’16. Over the summer, Delgado Montes was inspired to develop an app that would address the large volume of on-campus events.

“You walk by Val and you see 40 different posters to so many events and you have no idea what to go to,” he said. So one of the ideas is...log into your student account and being able to say I’m interested in watching anything related to Political Science, to European History, and to the soccer team.”

The project was conceived when Delgado Montes was emailed by a student from Brown University who had developed an app to advertise campus events, and sought to bring a similar app to Amherst.

“I had some demos with the student, and he sort of told me about the functions of the app, how it worked,” Delgado Montes said. “There were other senators and students that were behind [the project] over the summer. I spoke to them about it, and in the end, I got an interview with Gayle Barton, who was then the Chief Information Officer, the head of IT. ”

The college had previously set aside money to develop a mobile app. The AAS decided to work with the college’s IT department, now led by Hamilton, to push the project forward.

Howard Hanna, the college’s interim director of web development, said that the campus app project came together this summer as a result of several different factors: “student-driven initiative, vision by leadership like David Hamilton to know to set aside money for it, to set aside time for us to develop it and to wait for vendor frameworks to be mature enough to handle the kind of thing we wanted to do with it.”

Hanna emphasized the importance of student input in helping to further develop the app. He said that in order for the app project to realize its full potential, he hopes the student body will “tell what’s good, what’s working, what isn’t working and we’ll attend to that. Our ultimate hope is to make it a really great experience for the students.”

The mobile app is a successor to the mobile version of the Amherst College website, found at m.amherst.edu. The mobile site was a “curated collection” of links that students could use on their phones’ web browsers. While many of the functions of the campus app — checking the menu and meal times at Valentine Dining Hall, for example — were already accessible on the mobile site, both Hamilton and Hanna agreed that shifting from the mobile site model to a native app or a web app model would help to integrate the system into students’ daily lives.

“They can access [while] walking on campus immediately, a better solution for that particular audience’s needs than having to, say, navigate through a website,” Hanna said.

Hanna drew contrasts between the usual development process for an IT project and the student driven nature of the new campus app’s development. While normally the college’s communications department would dictate features and other expectations to IT, the collaboration between the IT department and the AAS, recounted by Delgado Montes, largely determined the project’s design goals from the outset.

To Delgado Montes, one of the biggest challenges of the app’s development was keeping it sleek, simple and user friendly.

“We could literally stuff the app with at least 20 functions of things it can do, so there’s a tradeoff between picking the things that are most useful to students because this is a student-centered app,” Delgado Montes said.

According to Interim Chief Information Officer David Hamilton, there have been 110 written suggestions submitted to the IT department, 90 of which were requests for the inclusion of the Grab ’n’ Go Menu in addition to Valentine’s.

As it receives student requests like these, the IT department is already considering new features for the app, and will likely continue adding to the app throughout the year.

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