Technology Research

In Search of the Killer Mobile App, Part 2: Killer Apps in the Wild (aka App-nado)

In our last Tech Alert, we introduced our search for a killer mobile app for higher education. We found that—despite all the apps that LMS vendors have developed—there is a shortage of unique, engaging, and compelling apps to facilitate teaching and learning. For an app to qualify as “killer,” it must deliver a great mobile educational experience and reach a level of adoption among faculty who integrate it into their curricula. To identify apps with “killer” potential, we returned our attention to the broader market of higher education apps beyond those that are offered by LMS vendors. We have met with companies that focus on mobile experiences to address common instruction, retention, and student engagement challenges. We have also monitored media coverage of emerging mobile app companies for the next great idea. We’re looking for apps that leverage mobile device features beyond the mobile web browser. They must be compelling enough to win the contest for end users’ phone space, which also requires that an app be easily recognizable and associated with the school brand or specific task at hand. Of all the companies we reviewed, here are five that we thought had the most “killer app” potential: Check I'm Here

Check I’m Here

Check I’m Here may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a student ID card reader. Students can either swipe their card or show a scannable barcode on the app to access campus activities, sporting events, student government meetings, or any other event with tracked attendance. The app’s connection to the student information system allows for real-time ID verification to ensure that only current students are allowed into events. Additionally, student affairs coordinators and the managers of specific campus organizations can create reports and dashboards to monitor event attendance and engagement among target student populations. When tied to student retention solutions, this provides data on students’ participation in campus life outside the classroom, which early alert and intervention systems do not typically gather.   ProctorExam


ProctorExam came to our attention after we published our recent Tech Alert on online proctoring. While it supports the features you would expect from fully-live or record-and-review proctoring solutions, its use of students’ mobile devices is what stands out most. All proctoring vendors specify that students can’t use mobile devices during exam sessions unless the institution or faculty has authorized its use. ProctorExam lets students use their mobile devices as a second camera to enable a 360-degree view of the remote exam location. This provides comparable security and confidence in the setting as traditional proctoring settings and providers like Pearson VUE. Institutions can choose whether to use this feature on a course-by-course or exam-by-exam basis.   Volley


Volley’s recent $2.3 million seed round included an investment from Zuckerberg Education Ventures, which might know a thing or two about identifying the next killer app, given Mark Zuckerberg’s success with notable apps like Facebook, Messenger, and Paper. With Volley, students take a picture of what they are reading, and the app determines its context and offers information about the topic, including material to help students better grasp the content. This tool could be combined with a virtual, one-on-one advising service to enable students to send pictures of content they need help with to their advisors for assistance. This user data will be very valuable to institutions, publishers, and app developers alike. Knowing which pages of what textbooks students were analyzing could help pinpoint trouble areas in comprehension and allow publishers to refine course materials. If you’re thinking that Volley sounds like a real-life version of the “Project Lenwoloppali” mobile app featured in The Big Bang Theory, you’re not alone. Two other notable mobile apps, Photomath and Mathway, also leverage mobile devices’ cameras to take a picture of equations and show students each step to solve them. Software that uses a native device feature, in this case the camera, and the processing power of connected cloud services to deliver a deeper understanding of content on the printed page is definitely worthy of being called a killer app. While these five apps show potential, the companies that developed them will need to follow through on execution if they are to become “killer apps.” Many vendors put enormous fanfare into the initial product release and then ignore the capability as they move on to other projects. Successful apps must have a clearly defined product roadmap and release schedule that include responding to concerns raised in app store reviews. Apps that leverage devices’ native capabilities (e.g., offline content consumption, geolocation, and image capture) will provide a much more engaging experience for students and will be better received by faculty. If your institution is using a native mobile app for teaching and learning, please let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear more and set up an interview with your team to find out how your use of apps is enhancing the student experience.  

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