University of Vermont

Digital Services New this Fall Aim to Connect Students, Provide Answers and Organization

Who else lives in Harris Millis? Are there other geography majors looking for a study group? Can I find a carpool up to the mountain this weekend?

UVM students pondering these questions and more can find the answers on an app new to the university this fall. Created by San Francisco-based company Inigral, the only company licensed by Facebook to develop an app for higher education, the Schools App is a Facebook-based experience that creates a custom community within the popular social networking platform.

After logging into their personal Facebook accounts, students who have signed up for the app can navigate to the University of Vermont menu -- a separate space from their Facebook profiles -- and join communities of interest, many of them specific to UVM. Each residence hall is represented, for example, as well as all UVM majors and clubs and an array of other topics of interest -- from foreign films to skateboarding to "The Colbert Report." Students can begin conversations around these topics (or create their own), add other students as friends and arrange "meet-ups" -- opportunities to translate online friendships into real-life connections.

That's the heart of the app -- to help students find a group of friends with similar backgrounds, shared hobbies and common pursuits. In the past months, it's helped students already on campus connect, and in the coming months, as the university begins admitting students to the class of 2017, the app will serve as a place for potential incoming students to make friends even before the first orientation session brings them to Burlington.

Admitted students will have access to their own community in the app, separate from current students, where they can connect over the all-important decision about whether to enroll at UVM. After they've committed to the university, they can start tackling together the big first year questions: what major should I pick? Which campus should I live on? What meal plan to choose? A handful of current student moderators will be on hand within the admitted student space to help provide answers where they can.

One student moderator is Kacy Van Clief, a UVM senior who serves as student coordinator of the First Year Experience program. The app, she says, is "a great tool for incoming students. It uses a format (Facebook) that they are already are familiar with, which makes it so easy to use."

Chris Lucier, vice president for enrollment management who oversaw the app's implementation, is encouraged by research showing that students who engage in social communities like these are more likely to enroll and once enrolled, more likely to stay at the university. "The School App lets us provide students with easy ways to find and connect with each other, which improves the chances they'll find a good fit at UVM," he says. "It's been exciting to see the numbers who have already joined, and we're especially looking forward to offering this platform to the class of 2017. They'll be more connected and engaged from the moment they step foot on campus next August than any class before them."

Ask Us and myUVM

If the Facebook app enhances the social lives of students, two other new Web-based platforms will help students, faculty and staff stay organized and carry out day-to-day business more efficiently.

UVM's portal, myUVM, underwent a redesign just before the semester started. The site's new layout provides centralized links with single-sign-on functionality to useful external systems, including the online classroom tool Blackboard, Human Resources' PeopleSoft, Webmail, the Facebook app and more.

In response to student demand, the new portal offers more prominent access to class schedules, and the design, which is mobile-friendly, can tailor content to the user, displaying information based on affiliation with UVM. This allows the portal to provide targeted messages and advising content, for example, depending on a student's year or college. It also features enhanced resources for understanding the CATS report, also offered within the portal, which helps students track degree requirements.

Also new this year is an Ask Us function in place on the Admissions, Student Financial Services (SFS) and Registrar's Office websites. It allows users to bypass more generic search engines and instead query a database of relevant knowledge that uses smart technology to improve the more it's used. If an answer is not found, users can send an email that will be directed to the appropriate staff or office, and managers can track those emails to ensure an answer is provided. The tool also provides reports that help staff identify knowledge gaps and improve effectiveness.

The Admissions and SFS Ask Us is available on their mobile sites, and the SFS and Registrar's Ask Us is available on their tabs in myUVM. The tool was designed by RightNow Technologies, now owned by Oracle.

"I'm very proud of the effort of everyone involved in all three of these projects," Lucier says. "The tools have been implemented based on outstanding communication, coordination, professionalism, and team work, with a shared commitment to UVM and the quality of our student experience being the drivers."