Written jointly by Riley Mai and Trang Nguyen, with additional reporting by Joshua Scott.
For the past two years, Seattle Central College has been in the process of implementing a mobile app for the school in partnership with OOHLALA Mobile, a Quebec based mobile software company. Despite being available on both the App Store and Google Play, most of the students at Seattle Central have never heard of the app. For many of those who have heard of the app technical difficulties prevent them from using it.
We spent a day going around the school asking people what they thought about the app. Most of the responses we received were either “What app?” or “We have an app?” The rest knew about the app but did not bother to download it. When we asked if they would want to download the app, some of them refused: “What’s the point?”, “Why? I don’t need it.” Those who did agree to do it got stuck in the process of signing in, and had to seek assistance with their Seattle Central email. “This is complicated,” one student said. For those who had used the app, five out of six students said they would not use it and would delete it soon from their phones. One of the students commented: “I don’t see any uses of the app that would benefit me.”
“What app? We have an app?”
According to Ricardo Leyva-Puebla, Director of Student Services, 780 students downloaded the app as of this April. However, data showing the number of people using the app does not discern between teachers and students. MaryAnn Barker, an Associated Student Council (ASC) representative, thinks a big problem with the app is that student government can share all the information they would like with faculty, but they cannot do so directly with students. Then faculty may or may not find it necessary to tell their students about an app whose purpose has nothing to do with instruction, in the first place.
Students and teachers have been communicating well via email and Canvas for several years. Most clubs and student organizations have their own groups on Facebook for contact. And on Facebook students can find housing options, buy and sell items in the Seattle Central Buying & Selling group. On Canvas, they can easily access their class schedules and do their homework at the same time. Smartphones have Google Maps or an equivalent. As for the calendar, events and campus information are always kept up to date on Seattle Central’s website.
The Seattle Central App attempted to combine the functions of Facebook, Canvas, Google Maps and Seattle Central’s website, which would actually make it easier for students to access all platforms at one place. However, whether or not students change their habits to save themselves from opening multiple apps at once is another question. The only original benefit of the Seattle Central app is the option to call security immediately at the top right of the app.
During the 2016 – 2017 academic year, Adonay Lebeneh, the Issues and Concerns Executive Officer of ASC at the time, came up with the idea of a mobile app for the school. “He felt like a lot of our problems for Student Leadership are the fact that we were not able to ask students and get students’ feedback as much as we need,” said Barker, who is the ASC’s Executive of Communication. We reached out to Lebeneh through email and social media, but he has not responded.
Surveys from students were collected to measure interest in an app. The Student and Activities Budget Committee (SNA) then agreed that there was a need for a platform for student feedback. The SNA, who oversees the portion of the school’s budget for activities and events for students on campus, agreed to grant the Seattle Central App funding $15,500 per year for two academic years, according to the contract we obtained.
“It was something that the younger students want. They wanted what South Seattle College has.” Kristina Sawyckyj, one of the ASC members from last year recalled. South Seattle College had a mobile app that allows students to communicate with each other, access event calendar, clubs, school’s maps, find housings, place classified ads and find their class schedules.
At the same time, Leyva-Puebla moved from South Seattle College to Seattle Central College. “The interest and request to bring OOHLALA Mobile to the campus came from Adonay Lebeneh. He had seen that South campus had used it and understood the limitations for students to communicate with each other across campus and lobbied very strongly in having the app be incorporated to Central,” Leyva-Puebla said.
So the college contacted OOHLALA Mobile, and a representative visited Seattle Central. “It all went very quickly. The student council changed a lot in a year.” Kristina said.
The Seattle Central app launched in the fall of 2017, after the 2016-2017 term of the ASC ended. During Student Leadership training in September, student leaders had an orientation to learn how to sign-in on the app. Since then, student leaders have continued advertising for the app by putting up posters around campus. In addition to that, they have had many meetings with OOHLALA Mobile and with various departments on campus. Tests were done with focus groups of students to encourage them to use it. The Student Organizations Resources Council (SORC), who organizes clubs, have asked clubs to check in with a QR code in their meetings. At Information Central, flyers and information about the app are presented at the front desk. Some info sessions about the app have also been hosted over the past year. If you are a frequent visitor at any board’s meeting in the Student Leadership, you have likely heard about the Seattle Central App.
Since the app allows the use of a QR code, the current Issues and Concerns Executive Officer came up with the idea of getting students to check in with it. Theoretically, students would have to sign in to the app to do so. At the end of the Student Open Forum, where the check in idea was proposed, a survey of data was sent to student leaders. One of the things they found out was that not many people who attended the forum had even downloaded the app.
Aside from functionality and usage, there have also been technological difficulties, which stem from behind the scenes at OOHLALA Mobile. At one ASC meeting in April, some of the student leaders had said that they were still unable to sign in on the app themselves. “The most challenging thing has been the networking between our college and the app.” Leyva-Puebla said. “The staff person that was working on helping to integrate the app with the college left. When that happened, it created a void that we couldn’t quite fix fast enough.”
Students need an EAD to login in order to make the app only available to Seattle Central’s students and faculty. The EAD (@seattlecolleges.edu) address is the student email at Seattle Colleges which is used to log in on the computers at the Computer Lab and to access Microsoft Office 365 online. Students need to go to the website ( https://tools.seattlecolleges.edu/home ) and get their login credentials by signing in with a Student ID and PIN. When a quarter ends, students will be asked to change their EAD password. Ultimately, they will be signed out on the Seattle Central app again, if they had successfully signed in before that.
Based on information on OOHLALA’s website 7500 students at Seattle University have downloaded the app. As of Fall 2017, Seattle University had 7248 enrolled students, which means that more or less, most of the student population should be using the app by now. However, on our trip to Seattle University’s cafeteria, when asking about a Seattle University app, most of the replies we received were “We had an app?” and “No, I didn’t know.”
“One thing I know is that many students do know about the app, they just choose not to download it since they don’t need it.”
Regarding South Seattle College, after an unsuccessful attempt in getting in touch with their Student Government, we went down there to find out what the students thought about their school’s app. According to OOHLALA Mobile’s website, which lists South Seattle College as a case study, there are more than “7000 conversations that students are engaging in” on the app. Regarding how many downloads the app has, the Android app store shows that there are 500 downloads. We could not verify or identify the same figure with Apple’s app store since the information is confidential. As for the students, one international student said: “Yeah I know about the app, I just don’t use it. We have social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram these days. All the info is up there, so I just don’t see the point of using it.” She continued, “One thing I know is that many students do know about the app, they just choose not to download it since they don’t need it.”
Monica Lundberg, Program Manager for Student Government at South Seattle College, confirmed that they had ended their relationship with OOHLALA Mobile and no longer used their app, though OOHLALA still has South listed as a case study.
Though South Seattle College’s app did have wide recognition, we question whether that makes the app any more useful than the one here at Seattle Central College.
The Seattle Central app came to life with the good intention of connecting the student body together. Still, the app may have been implemented without thinking about how students would actually prefer to voice their opinions. Seattle Central College is a growing community. Nevertheless, many other programs that are already active on campus, scholarship organizations – or perhaps those broken microwaves down in the cafeteria – would benefit from the app’s funding $30,000 and countless hours of labor on the part of ASC.
Currently, ASC is still promoting the Seattle Central app since it is now a part of their duties. During the extended hours, they plan to bump student usage by getting them to sign in at the library with the QR code. The same process is going be done at orientations as well.
The mid-year checkpoint for Seattle Central app is coming shortly. As the number of students using the app has yet to increase significantly, the app is on the verge of being terminated in the next year. It will disappear silently along with students’ effort and money. Leyva-Puebla said that the school will likely lose future funding for a similar project if the app continues to fail expectations. “And I think it would be nice if we can at least have this work for us,” he added. Whether or not the app will be funded for another year relies on the Student and Activities Budget Committee’s upcoming decision.