SMU seeks creative kickstart for app

Students to co-create the school’s new mobile app

Saint Mary’s students, working on the next innovation to hit campus, have an excuse to pore over their smartphones in the next few weeks. The university is hosting a contest, calling students to arms to develop its first mobile app to “enrich the student experience.”

The contest has two parts:
In phase one, students — either individually or in teams of up to five — come up with their ideas.

“We want students to focus on what is relevant to current and future Saint Mary’s students. What would have benefitted their experience?” asks Jen Wheatley, a communications officer at SMU.

Can’t decipher a shopping list? Don’t worry — no coding knowledge is required to come up with a good idea.

“They don’t need to know any HTML,” Wheatley says. “They could have really basic rudimentary computer skills and still enter. That’s part of the neat function of this contest.”

What’s important is having an idea of the look and feel of their app, as well as what it can do for students, she explains.

Students studying in the atrium at SMU, each has a smartphone
SMU hopes to have the new app by the end of the winter semester. Photo: Vanessa Ratjen.

Ideas should be submitted with an overview and a mock-up of a basic interface design by Feb. 15.

Submissions will be judged on their fit with the university’s community, their functionality, feasibility and accessibility.

Winning ideas move on to phase two: creating the app.

Winning team members get an iPod Nano.

The U app

While Saint Mary’s is ahead of the curve for schools in Halifax, university apps are part of a growing trend across the country, with students collaborating in different ways.

Staff and students at Ryerson University worked together to create Ryerson Mobile in 2009. More than 10,000 students used the app last year, more than a third of the student population. Features such as Class Schedule and Grades have been the most popular so far.

Innovators at the University of British Columbia are asking students to help advance their app beyond the regular directory.

Less than a year after the app’s release UBC is in the second phase of a contest to improve its design.

“We wanted to make it more accessible, more personal, more fun and pleasing than you would expect to find on your typical conservative university control system,” says David Vogt, director of innovation strategy for the UBC Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre.

If you want to be a world-class university, he says, you need to be stunning in all the digital domains. So, just a few months after its release, university staff reached out for creative feedback.

“We knew we couldn’t succeed in this broader game of really taking giant steps in the mobile experience unless we engaged the most creative source on campus, which is the students themselves,” Vogt explains.

“We were not conceited about it,” he adds. “We said, ‘Here’s this platform. It’s not nearly what it needs to be. Show us what it could be.’”

With more than 50 student teams representing more than 150 students participating, the contest at UBC has, thus far, been a success, says Vogt.

Some submissions “had some really enormous breakthrough potential,” says Vogt.

Wheatley is anticipating a successful turnout at SMU too. She says she’s already had some great ideas come across her desk.

“We’re also looking for project leaders, (people with) basic design skills and an aesthetic mind,” she adds. “All of those things are necessary to make a mobile app that’s really cool.”

There is an info session about the contest at SMU this Friday, Feb. 1, in Room 101 of the Atrium.