We live in the era of mobile phones and the applications that they hold. Mobile apps have become a standard of how we communicate and stay informed. Business of Apps reports that iOs users downloaded 25 billion apps last year and Android users downloaded 50 billion. There are many ways a school mobile app can improve communication with parents, so it makes sense that many schools are trying to leverage this important tool.
But there is more to the story. Apps may be popular, but they are not without flaws. A well-designed, school-dedicated app has potential to streamline your school’s communication, but there are also many drawbacks from relying too heavily on your app. It’s important to be realistic about what this tool can provide for your school and perhaps even reconsider getting a school mobile app.
The status of school mobile apps
Use of mobile apps exceeded traditional desktop use back in 2014. In an effort to get ahead, many schools were quick to design and launch a dedicated mobile app. School mobile app companies lunged at the opportunity, providing a myriad of options for app creation. But, based on feedback we’ve received at Campus Suite, schools are experiencing a very low download rate: for example, one school with a student population of 6,000 only had 100 downloads of their school app. This was not for lack of effort: heavy promotion of the app was employed at all levels, but the downloads fell short.
There could be a number of reasons for such a low download rate. Parents might be reluctant to download another app for fear it will just suck up battery and send meaningless updates. The value may not be clear to them. Because the app is useless without a download, all the time and money invested in creating the app is wasted if families aren’t interested.
This means there is risk in getting a school-dedicated mobile app. To decide if a mobile app is a functional tool for your school, it’s important to understand the limitations.
1. Communication reach is limited
Communication sent via mobile app is limited to those who have downloaded the app and pay attention to it. For example, the school we mentioned above - with 6,000 students and only 100 app downloads - will be reaching less than 5% of their parent population with an app notification. This means, even if your school has a very high download rate, you will need to use other methods of communication in addition to your app notifications.
Schools should have a notification system that covers several methods of communication, such as SMS, email, and voicemail, for emergencies and vital information. Schools can never rely on the mobile app as the exclusive method for sharing time-sensitive or urgent information. The app will always need to be supported by other methods of outreach.
2. Mobile apps may not easily integrate your data
For an app to be truly helpful for parents, it needs to provide targeted information, not just general updates. A school mobile app should allow parents to access student information like schedules, grades, teachers (with contact information), and grade-specific events or reminders. All of this should be available when a parent logs into the app - they shouldn’t be required to set it up themselves. A successful app will require the minimum input from users and still act as an abundant resource.
Push notifications should also be user-specific. The last thing anyone wants is an app that pings every fifteen minutes with irrelevant updates or information. Anytime the app contacts the user, it should be for unique information that applies to the individual student, their class, or another group with which they are involved.
In order for the app to provide this specialized information to each user, it needs to quickly and easily pull data from with your Student Information System (SIS). While this integration between app and SIS is vital to a successful and functional app, many mobile apps won’t automatically do this. This lack of integration can doom the communication efforts of your app and explains why more schools are shifting to the cloud to manage all their data.
3. Mobile apps don’t always work with your website
In addition to integrating with your SIS, it is also imperative that your mobile app integrates with your website. Often, users have downloaded the app to avoid visiting the website, so they should be able to access all of the website’s information without leaving the app. In order to do this, your website will need to have a responsive design format - meaning the website information displays correctly regardless of how it is being accessed (via laptop, tablet, or mobile phone). If you don’t have a responsive website, integrating your app with your website can be very challenging, which presents a major drawback to having an app in the first place.
While there are many benefits of a correctly designed school mobile app, it’s important to approach this project with awareness. Mobile apps have limited reach and they can never act as a substitute for other, more thorough methods of communication. Also, it’s important to assess the status of your website and SIS to ensure integration of the app with these features won’t be a huge headache.
Like any snazzy, new tool in the communication field, it’s important to know what you’re getting - and what you’re not.
Some articles you could use:
- Responsive Web Design or Mobile App for My School?
- 7 Must-Have Features for your School Mobile App
- Why Schools are Shifting to the Cloud to Manage All Data
- The top 20 School Mobile App Review
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.