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How Institutions Can Predict Students' Academic Engagement Through App Use

Can mobile technology really impact student engagement?

The union of technology and education is no longer an idea for the future. Students and institutions increasingly have access to smartphones, laptops, or iPads, and leaders in education are exploring the best ways to use such technologies to produce the most effective learning environments for students today. 

As a mobile app start-up in ed tech, we are committed in contributing to this educational revolution by analyzing our own tools as they are used in real academic scenarios. This post addresses the problem of student dropout in higher education, and how mobile technology might be used as a solution to improving student retention rates by increasing student engagement.

Student engagement is defined as the effort (time and energy) a student puts toward their academic activities, as well as the effort (policies and practices) the institution puts toward helping students partake in such activities (Kuh, 2003). The facets of engagement that are of particular importance to this articles are:
  • first year transition: the extent to which students engage with student life and their institution as they make the transition to the institution
  • academic strategies: the student's study habits, their ability to manage their time, and their strategies for academic success
  • beyond class activity: student's connections with the institution beyond the classroom setting
  • learning support: how the app provides support to the student in their study habits, their motivation to study, and their preparedness as a student
These constructs were measured through a survey sent to users of the OOHLALA app. In the survey, each construct was explored through a series of questions.

Mobile Technology in Education

Many institutions and educators are adopting student mobile use into the learning environment, finding ways to encourage this development and harness technology to support learning. One advantage to the spike in mobile use amongst students is the abundance of educational mobile apps, which can be an excellent complementary resource to traditional education environments.

While there are many different types of campus mobile apps, this paper will focus on the OOHLALA app. The features specific to this app consist of:
  • a campus map that indicates locations of every building for that institution
  • a campus feed where any student of that institution can post a comment that is accessible to all students
  • event listings of all upcoming campus related events
  • group and club listings where students can find new groups to join, or keep up to date with the groups they are already involved with
  • the option to share academic schedules with other classmates
  • a timetable that gives the opportunity for students to organize their courses, meetings, and to-do lists with reminders of upcoming due dates
  • a list of deals offered to students by businesses around the campus

Several of these features were designed to have an influence on student engagement. 

The study

A pilot study that ran from June 16, 2014, until June 30, 2014, asked app users to complete a 30-minute survey on their engagement level with their institution based on their use of the app. 61 students located across the US, Canada, and New Zealand completed the survey and provided feedback on their app use. Due to the varied user base (some respondents were no longer students, some were first year students, several no longer used the app), it is important to consider how these participants used the app at their campus and in their education for the previous semester.

What functions of the app were most frequently used?
Through a qualitative analysis of open-ended survey questions, we found that the majority of student participants for this survey used the app for academic purposes. Most students found the timetable and the schedule functions of the app to be valuable in organizing their courses, assignments, and meetings. They reported relying on reminders of class times and assignment due dates to support their academic pursuits and to keep them on track. This also includes managing coursework, and using the study timer as a tool to improve study habits and grades. This preliminary data also suggests that students are even using the app to self-regulate their learning by identifying and organizing upcoming tasks, monitoring their progress, and making adjustments based on the results of their academic behaviour.

While academic use of the app was popular amongst users, students also used it for social purposes. Social uses of the app included: finding new peers at the school or in the same classes; establishing meet up times between colleagues; viewing classmates' schedules to determine the next gathering; and to better relate with students they already knew but were not as connected to. Based on survey responses, it was clear that not all students who had the app belonged to an institution that supported the app, and therefore, it was difficult to find other classmates on the app (since no one else was using it). As we will see in the student engagement analysis, the level of institution involvement with the app plays an integral role in how much the students can benefit from using it.

Finally, student responses also indicated that the app was useful for keeping up with campus-related activities outside of the classroom (such as viewing club or group events). Similar to the social features, several students in this sample belong to schools who either did not promote the app to the student body or purchase the app to begin with. In order for students to keep up with current or upcoming campus events, the institution needs to be active with the app in order to maintain information and to keep student interest alive.

How was student engagement impacted through app use?

Based on the user behaviour patterns, we decided to look into what the relationship between institution involvement with the app was compared to student engagement through app use. What we found was that the level at which students were involved with the app predicted student engagement in academic engagement and learning support. Specifically, when a school is involved, students are academically engaged because of their app use in: managing their academic workload; organizing alone study time; attending classes through app reminders; and completing readings/assignments for class. Also, students feel more supported in their learning when a school is involved with the app, in such ways as: being able to improve study habits; finding the motivation to study; staying focused during study sessions; and being a better prepared student. What this means is that the more active the institution is with the app, the more engaged and supported students were by using OOHLALA. 


The implications of these findings suggest that campus mobile apps have a positive influence on student engagement. For these preliminary data we find that:

1) Student academic engagement through app use is predicted by the level of involvement the institution has with the app.

2) Through using the app, students have more support in their learning tasks when schools are actively involved with the app.

Our findings also suggest that campus mobile apps, OOHLALA specifically, show indications of supporting self-regulated learning (SRL) through students' use of academic features in the app. Further research can look more closely at how SRL is supported and structured through app use, and how this might influence students' academic goals and engagement with a larger sample size in order to gain more insights into how mobile app use can better support engagement in these areas. 


Kuh, G.D. (2003). What we're learning about student engagement from NSSE: Benchmarks for effective educational practices. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 35(2), 24-32.

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