Mobile app fever hits Ryerson University

Toronto-based Ryerson University has rolled out a suite of seven student-designed mobile apps, including a real-time computer availability tracker and a library account management tool.


The Web-based apps, which the school has launched under the umbrella Ryerson mobile, will allow students to access their personal class schedule, search the school’s library catalogue, manage their library account, book out a study room, and access a real-time status of all available computers across campus.


The computer finder app in particular should be helpful for students looking to find an empty workstation across Ryerson’s dozens of often crowded labs.


“There’s monitoring software that runs on the computer that can tell if somebody’s sitting at the computer working on it, if it’s down for maintenance, or if it’s free,” said Sally Wilson, Web services librarian at Ryerson.


The class schedule app, which has proven to be the most used app among students, was the most difficult one to get up and running, she said.


“There was one person devoted to that one all summer,” Wilson said, adding that the work on the app had to be done from scratch and all of the scheduling information had to be ported over from the school’s courseware Blackboard.


The seven-app project was conceived in late 2008 after a school survey found that cell phone penetration among undergrad students was 97 per cent, with smart phone penetration over 20 per cent.


Over this past summer, Ryerson computer sciences students, faculty and library staff teamed up to begin developing the mobile app suite. The apps were developed by three work/study students, including two programmers and one graphic designer.


Adam Carlucci, a fourth-year Image Arts New Media student and part of the student design team, worked on all of the mobile apps with the exception of the schedule viewer. His job consisted of adapting the existing full-screen, online apps to small-screen smart phones.


The workstation availability app was the most difficult app to develop, according to Carlucci. “We had to do user interface studies, find out what would be the best way to display what labs are available and so on,” he said. “There are also lots of technical concerns, because we had to pull this giant database of computers and have the right information.”


For other schools or businesses across the country that want to develop a similar set of apps for their own students or employees, Carlucci recommended app developers stick to making things simple.


“The chief problem to tackle is going to be the inconsistencies in all of the devices,” he said. “If you’re making a Web page, you have a general idea of the three or four browsers people will be using, but with this every single device has its own little quirks.”


Rounding out the list of apps are an interactive campus map, a faculty and staff directory, and a Ryerson news feed. All of the Web-based apps are optimized for iPhone, iPod Touch and BlackBerry devices, but will work on nearly every smart phone.


And while the initial Ryerson mobile plan is now complete, Wilson said that the school will continue looking to its students to improve on the service. The school is currently accepting feedback from students for future app ideas and is also looking for budding developers who might want to create the next batch of apps.

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