OWL-Space goes mobile
The Information Technology department released an upgraded mobile web browser for OWL-Space. Now, anyone using a smart mobile device – from iPhones to Blackberries – can access a new version of the site that automatically senses what type of device is being used and then loads the relevant mobile-friendly display.
The whole mobile look was rewritten completely from the ground up, according to Senior Instructor Technology Specialist Angela Rabuck. Now, when anyone goes to OWL-Space with a mobile browser they get something that makes course information much faster and easier to access, Rabuck said. She added that the normal OWL-Space view can still be accessed from a mobile browser at any time by clicking on the "Switch to Full View" button.
IT wants to improve the mobile browser further, but turning it into a full application is not in their immediate plans, Rabuck said. They are focusing more on improving the mobile experience for all users rather than building an application that only certain devices can access.
"We decided to update the browser because more and more people are relying on phones for information," Rabuck said. "We want to improve access to course materials for both students and faculty."
IT particularly wanted to expand the types of media and files available for download from the mobile browser, Rabuck said. Assistant Sociology Professors Rachel Kimbro and Justin Denney supported this initiative in their winning proposal for the a teaching grant. They will be using the award of about $4,100 partly to pay for the scanning and conversion of course readings to digital formats for SOCI 101: Introduction to Sociology.
The two professors decided to get rid of the course's traditional textbook and use a series of digitally available sociology research readings instead, Kimbro said. She added that they wanted those readings to be accessible on a wide range of devices.
"We are still working out the kinks – some of the documents don't display nicely on e-readers because of how they are scanned," Kimbro said. "However, I think it's great that the OWL-Space team has provided this mobile browser for us."
The students have been using the new browser and seem to enjoy it, Denney noted.
"I hope the mobile browser will enhance the student experience at Rice through making course materials more accessible," Denney said.
McMurtry College senior Tara Slough said she uses the new browser more than once a day to look up class materials and information and thinks it is much more user-friendly now.
"However, the login area is still really small, and it's tough to switch from tab to tab," Slough noted.
Wiess College sophomore John Turman said he uses the mobile OWL-Space very often on his iPhone 3GS and thinks it is a significant improvement over the old version.
"It's much easier to navigate because you don't have to pinch-zoom every five seconds," Turman noted "The mobile version is way better now."
However, he added that he would like to see the browser have more color in the future.
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