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Using mobile apps for navigation, orientation, and transition
September 2, 2010 - 10:15pm

Summer orientation programs are almost over. Welcome week activities are currently in progress. The first week of classes has begun. In other words, it's the end of summer, and the fall term is ready to begin. With thousands of students streaming to campuses across the country, student affairs professional are ramping up their programming endeavors to assist students as they navigate, get oriented and make the transition to campus.

An innovative way that has emerged to support students as they begin their collegiate journey is through the use of location-based mobile app challenges. Craig E. Mack, President, National Orientation Directors Association (NODA) states that "[technology] has certainly added a new dynamic to orientation programs and welcome week activities in the past 5+ years." At MassBay Community College, where Mack is the Associate Dean of Students, location-based mobile apps have been used to "facilitate a campus tour for students during orientation to help them navigate the campus and learn the resources and services."

Boston University's (BU) Division of Student Affairs recently utilized SCVNGR, a location-based mobile app, at the "Comm Ave Fair," to create a series of challenges for students to "trek" through as they learned about BU. According to Dan Solworth, Assistant Dean of Students at BU: "The Comm Ave Fair represented a way to ease the transition for new students connecting with the BU community. Students engaged in real, practical, and enjoyable applications of the academic and co-curricular opportunities on campus." BU plans to build out perpetual content for prospective and current students to play all year creating a literal "game layer" over campus. Students can participate on SCVNGR from their phones via iPhone/Android app or SMS. SCVNGR also integrates with Facebook Places so that students can connect with their Facebook friends.

SCVNGR, unlike Foursquare and "check-ins," is a game-based app that focuses on "rewards." According to BU's Dean of Students Kenn Elmore: "I'm interested in how games can teach people to be confident and to figure out the big picture. I like the game approach as a way to help students see the place and pick up information along the way. I like that students can build trust with each other by playing together -- a community builder."

350 universities currently use SCVNGR as a recruitment and retention tool. It will be interesting to see how student affairs practitioners assess the impact of SCVNGR and other location-based mobile apps. The potential growth for technology-based forms of "challenge and support" seems to be boundless.

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