College launches new mobile sites

After a round of testing, Dining Services, the College libraries, the Office of Communications and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) recently released the final versions of mobile dining services and library sites compatible with smart devices such as the iPhone. The sites were rolled out gradually over the past few weeks. “Dining and the library were chosen to be implemented first because of strong student interest in those areas,” said Suzanne Silitch, associate director of communications for the arts. Some of the other sites that have been reformatted for mobile use include the course catalog, student event listings, a number of WSO sections and the Record’s site.

The sites have been “officially live for the last three weeks – part of that was a testing period,” said Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of Dining Services.

An earlier version of the mobile site was field tested with students in Paresky and the Eco Cafe. After receiving responses from various students, faculty and staff through  e-mails and daily messages, “both design and functionality were altered – primarily, we realized that students really wanted to be able to see the Dining menus and that they didn’t like the icons we had originally designed,” Silitch said.  “So we changed our focus to the services that students would find most useful, and we shifted the design.”

“We’re very excited because this is such an innovative way for us to be able to share our menu information with students who are on the go,” Abayasinghe said of the recent rollout of the Dining Services mobile page. “Everyone is plugged into their phone. If you look in Paresky at any time of the day, you see students on their phone. This has truly been a team effort here, not only the dining managing team but as well as the web ops and development teams that really worked hard on the logistics of making this happen.”

The mobile dining site allows users to access the Dining Services’ menus through their smart phones by tapping on a certain dining hall to get the location’s menu for the day. “We also wanted to readily share information easily when we changed our menus through the mobile Dining site – [users] can see if there are any changes,” Abayasinghe said.

“We’re really excited about the mobile Dining [Services site] because it’s another instance of their office responding to student need and interest to become even more accessible,” said Krista Pickett ’13, College Council co-president. “In College Council’s conversations with Dining, we’ve tossed around a lot of ideas to better connect their services to the students. They presented the original idea in a College Council meeting, where the representatives gave extremely positive feedback.”

In addition to Dining Services’ mobile site, a smart device-friendly mobile library service site has also been released. “Our first step was to purchase a mobile version of FRANCIS. We also added hours and basic location information,” said Dave Pilachowski, a librarian at the College, of the site’s setup process. Pilachowski added that “Emery Shriver from Research and Reference Services has been part of a team led by Chris Warren that has created the mobile site that provides easy access to such resources as Contact a Library, Ask a Librarian, FRANCIS, several databases, library hours.

“It is important to us to provide information and services to users where they are,” Pilachowski continued. “It has been very clear that students, faculty, staff and others have increasingly been using mobile devices, particularly smart phones and tablets, to communicate and seek information. Therefore, the libraries need to optimize the design of a website to accommodate use by mobile devices.”

OIT was instrumental in executing the launch of the mobile sites across departments. “OIT worked on the core framework, some services, project management. Communications worked on more services and more project management. The library worked on their site, and gave feedback on what the perspectives of students and faculty might be,” said Chris Warren, senior academic application developer at OIT. “Dining Services worked with the web operation team (which was a part of OIT, but during the time of this project it moved to be a part of Communications) to improve their menus on the web and simultaneously develop their mobile service.”

Warren also spoke to the development process of the mobile site, including the decision-making process that determined which sites would host mobile versions in this iteration of the project. “By mid- to late 2011, we had implemented a first take on the core technology (a web-based mobile app framework) and set of services. From there we gathered feedback from the community via direct request to individuals, presentations to other committees, word-of-mouth and formal polling. From that response we changed the main design, shifted focus on what service to pursue and added a few new services to the mix,” Warren said.

Future plans for the series of mobile service sites are yet to be determined. “The main College website is being redesigned, and creating a mobile version of that is part of the plan for it,” Warren said. “Most likely nothing other than critical bug fixes will be done before fall semester, and it could be much longer. We’re still figuring out how to manage mobile services long-term. There are some services we know we need (e.g. a good map), and many more that we’d like to have eventually. There’s also a “Give Feedback” item in the current list of services where anyone can offer suggestions for changes and/or additions.”