New and returning students this semester may have noticed the launch of the university’s new “Sydney Uni app”, finally catching up with other universities both in Australia and worldwide (and really, with those iconic posters, how could you not have noticed?) The free app — available on iPhone and Android — aims to provide easy access to information about the university relevant to students, staff, and visitors.
This information includes staff contact details, university news, media galleries, links to the university’s social media pages, and details about upcoming events (such as conferences, lectures, and exhibitions) with the ability to add events to your phone’s calendar. Some features, however, are simply links to web content — for example, the Library feature is a link to library’s pre-existing mobile site.
Perhaps one of the most useful features for students are the maps, which allows one to search for any building on campus and see its location, along with an image of the building. While useful, the map can’t help you locate which building a particular room is in, nor does it provide routing between your location and your destination – despite including a GPS location feature.
These features are matched by apps provided by other universities in Australia such as UNSW and the University of Melbourne. Internationally, apps from universities including Harvard and Cambridge provide similar functionality. It is worth noting here that the University of Sydney is part of a very small minority (which includes UNSW) that has both an iPhone and Android app, with most offering only iPhone versions. The similarity of functions between these apps is not accidental — many have been developed by Blackboard Mobile, which offers a suite of standard features that universities can use in their branded apps.
Some new features of this platform, which may be integrated into the Sydney Uni app in future iterations, showpromise. One is an ‘Augmented Reality’ view, which allows you to point your smartphone’s camera at a building and receive relevant information overlayed on top of the image in realtime (this feature is included in the UNSW app).
One component of the Sydney Uni app that is absent from many others is the ability to view information about every unit of study offered, including course content and lecturer contact details. When this works, it’s a great way to quickly find out your course coordinator or look up some information about your courses for next semester.
Unfortunately, the execution is somewhat awkward. Looking up one of my courses by typing in “COMP5114” resulted in hundreds of results from “ACCP1061 — Accompaniment 1” to “WORK4101 — Industrial Relations and HRM Honours A”, as the app had found every subject with the text “COMP” anywhere in the description. Success between different subjects will also vary given that the relevance and usefulness of information here relies on the faculties providing such information.
The ability to view unit of study information, contact details, campus maps, and more are all useful features to have in your pocket, and stacks up well when compared to most other universities mobile apps.
What the app lacks, however, is what all apps of this kind appear to lack — a way to access personally relevant information, rather than just generic information. For example, there is no way for a student to log in to the app and view their own timetable, with easy links from here to room locations and travel times. The inclusion of features like this is in today’s context makes sense, and would greatly improve the usefulness of the app.
The Sydney Uni app is available on the App Store and Google Play. More information and a feedback form can be found at: http://sydney.edu.au/mobile