2025: Imagining the Future of Mobile Apps in Higher Education

future of mobile applications

2025: Imagining the Future of Mobile Apps in Higher Education

Students are Likely to Have an Unprecedented Level of Flexibility and Functionality in the Mobile-Enabled Higher Ed World of Tomorrow

What could the higher education experience look like if we more effectively embraced the smartphone? Some of the ideas offered here are feasible and functional today, but few schools have really leveraged them. Some of the ideas are more forward looking and have only been attempted in pilot programs (or not at all). Anyway, enjoy this little look at the possibilities, and please don't hesitate to share your ideas and feedback in the comments!

Hi, my name is Jenna. I attend Mobile Friendly University in Anytown, USA. Thanks to the many amazing ways my university leverages mobile technology, how I connect and interact with my courses, professors, and college administration is efficient, flexible, and even fun!

Students can attend all classes at MFU by coming to campus or by connecting remotely. If you miss a class, it has probably been recorded and made available for review. If not, there will be notes and materials online for your review. Of course, professors want students to come to class, and most of them usually do, but if you can't make it, you can still participate and learn.

Here’s what one of my typical days looks like.

My smart watch wakes me by vibrating on my wrist (which is very roommate friendly, since my roomy is sleeping in a bit today and doesn't want to hear an alarm). I have an 8 AM Oral Comm class this morning but I’m still getting over a cold and it’s a long trek across campus, so I’m just gonna rest a little longer and watch, listen (on earbuds), and participate from my dorm room. I can engage with the professor through my class application and ask questions that I have. I can direct my questions to just the professor, or to the whole class, and often other students can answer the questions. We're assigned a two minute oral presentation for homework, which we are expected to record and upload in the threaded video discussion app that is used in the course. We all have to watch and critique two other student's speeches and provide feedback via video (which provides yet another opportunity to practice and demonstrate our oral comm skills and knowledge).

Next I have Calculus at 10:15 AM and I have to cross campus for that class. Before I head out I order a coffee from the Union using the store app, so I can just grab and go when I pass by – my coffee is fresh and hot when I get there, since they knew when I was nearby and prepared it just at the right time.

Last night, in preparation for today's class, I watched a couple short videos about Antiderivatives and Indefinite integrals on my phone, and had to answer some short questions in the app, intended to check my understanding of the topics. I kept struggling with one concept, and the app directed to me to additional materials and prompted me with new questions until I was able to show that I got the basic idea.

In class, as we worked on problems and broke out into small groups to spot check each other's work, the teacher worked the room, stopping to help students whose online feedback showed that they needed more help. Some of the students who mastered the material easily took time to help some of the other students who wanted help, while others went on to the next topic. Oh yeah, the teacher is German and doesn't speak English very well, but that's not a problem since we just use a translator app to hear instant, accurate translations in our ear buds.

My next class is one of my favorites – Chemistry. We get to use different mixed reality applications that let us get immersed in how molecules are formed and how they interact. Back when I was in high school, we had to strap on a bulky head set hard-wired to a desktop computer to power the Virtual Reality applications we used in some classes, but today's powerful smartphones and newer breed of apps lets us use just the phone and a pair of glasses that projects interactive 3D content right before your eyes. I love to see how things like Covalent bonding work by creating virtual chemical reactions that happen on-demand, right before my eyes. We can also use the glasses to record experiments that we do, both virtually and in the real-world, as we experiment with chemistry in daily life (like last weekend when, as part of an assignment, I prepared a marinade for chicken and explained how the chemistry of the sauce helps to break down the meat!).

After the Day's Classes

After Chemistry I headed back to my room. My facilities app alerted me that there were washing machines open downstairs, so I went ahead and dragged some laundry down and threw a load in. While I was waiting, I checked my phone to see if the lastest “care package” has arrived from home (my Mom's chocolate chip cookies are just the best!). Yay, it's here! I'll have to stop by and grab it after my clothes are done. I checked my Mom's whereabouts to see if I could call her, but it she was in a meeting, so dropped her a quick “thank you, got it, love you!” video.

Later, on my way over to the dining hall, one of my favorite songs started playing on my phone to let me know that my best friend Marissa was nearby! I buzzed her and let her know I was headed over to eat too and then she turned the corner and yelled my name. During dinner she mentioned that she got alerted that Moondance and the Grave Diggers, a great funky little acoustic group we liked, was playing an early show at one of the bars in town and we decided to go check it out. We set an appointment to be picked up at 6:30 PM. Those self-driving cabs are so convenient!

While we were listening to the band, I suddenly remembered that my Academic Advisor had reached out through the campus app to ask me to give her a buzz. When the band took a break, I sent a quick chat request, and a few minutes later, there she was on my screen. We set up an appointment to discuss my schedule for the next term and make sure I was taking the best sequence of courses to keep me on track to graduate on time. She explained that her office had moved and gave me a link to the new building and room so my phone could direct me right to it.

After the show, I wanted to review what we are working on in Calculus, so I asked my phone to open the MFU Study Buddies app and find any classmates who were nearby and might want to get together in the library, as well as anyone who might want to join us virtually. A little while later, a few of us where talking Calculus in a comfortable sitting area, while a few others joined us on screen on one of the display consoles located throughout the library.

My Mom likes to tell me about how things we so different back when she went to college, before the smartphone. You had to find someone to clue you in if you missed a class, course materials were rarely available online, and you sometimes got stuck with graduate Teaching Assistants that you could hardly understand. If you wanted to get together with your friends you had to arrange it by making a bunch of phone calls or using email. If you wanted to go into to town you had to walk or find someone to give you a ride. Homework was often hand-written, making it very hard to edit, and impossible to back up. You couldn't really even tell what your grade was in a lot of classes until the professor told you at midterm, or after the course was done! I am so grateful for the ease and convenience that modern mobile apps have made possible.