Campus Communication using Mobile Technology

Aim

How to customize the concept of student’s mobile used as an INTER region device, to an INTRA region device, and serve as a platform for exchange of campus based and educational information.

Summary

In the quest of finding solution to the problem of communication within the campus, I took it up as my final year thesis project. The research focused on how to customize the concept of a student’s mobile used as an INTER region device, to act as an INTRA region device and serve as a platform for exchange of campus based and educational information.The project involved extensive user research along with a study of types of mobiles used by them, followed by contextual interviews and modeling the data using DFDs and UML diagrams. Focus groups helped me understand the problems better with a deeper understanding of the communication methods. The solution developed was not only scalable with the advances in the wireless technology but also worked with different varieties of mobiles used within the campus. I also met AIRTEL authorities in Guwahati to discuss the infrastructure required, feasibility, and the scope of the project. The new system incorporates features such as access to university portal, information circulation, social networking, and security of residents.Through this project, I learned to innovate a solution according to market requirements with adaptability to technological changes in mobile and wireless networks. On the whole it was an interesting experience, extending an existing solution to address a problem affecting our own day to day lives.

My Role (What did I do, learn)

Design and Methodology

The project was completed in four phases starting with the data gathering phase which comprised of a detailed research of the existing scenario in the campus and a state of the art survey studying different communication solutions in the campuses around the world.
These were some primary findings from the data gathering phase:

  • Students, faculty and staff members use their mobile phones to contact each other personally.
  • Students prefer face to face interaction with their fellow mates in the same hostel, while use SMS or call their friends in other hostels.
  • Students use sophisticated mobiles for watching videos, listening songs, messaging and calling long distance calls.
  • University website portal update students with latest information and provides facilities to download latest software and updates.
  • Information related to classes, time table and holidays are exchanged through webmail between professors and students. Information regarding mess and library overdue are reported using mails to individual students or by passing notices.
  • IITG Newsgroup is used to share information regarding various campus issues which involve broad range of topics from problem reporting to lost and found things.

In the state of the art survey, communication solutions in universities like

  1. University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
  2. St Petersburg University and
  3. IBM’s Enhanced campus communication solutions  was examined.

The second phase started with a user study of the students in the campus and the kind of phones they use, followed by an online survey of students and ending with analysis and interventional studies which involves active prompting to elicit verbal information of the interaction processes of the user with the product.
Mobile phones used in the campus were classified into primary, secondary and tertiary class of phones based on the features and functionalities. Some of the major findings of the studies are highlighted below:

  1. Majority of the students (67%) used secondary class of phones which are smart phones, symbian or java based.
  2. 80.4% of the students requested for some kind of Networking software to link administration, faculty and students using mobile.
  3. Services used in the phone are generally Call, SMS – Java based, sophisticated systems – Bluetooth, Memory Card, MP3,Video, Smartphone’s.

The analysis and interventional studies helped us discover facts and opinions held by potential users of the system being designed. After all real time tasks were completed, participants were asked a series of questions designed to explore communication methods and the functionality. This enabled us to know who talks to whom, and how often. How the various functions were used and what problems were faced by the users? Participants were also encouraged to ask questions and provide additional feedback on any aspect of the study.

These are the considerations which were taken into account before conceptualizing the solution:

  1. Social Networking:

Before conceptualizing we have to keep in mind the social networking issues, how can the system fulfill the requirement of social networking within the campus.

  1. Mobile Phone Constraints:

We have to design a solution keeping in mind two most important aspects:
1) The system should satisfy with the technology aspects behind the construction of mobile phones from different companies. For e.g. chip design or operating system used.
2) The system should conform to the difference in the functions and facilities provided by different phones.

  1. Wireless Technology Analysis:

We conceptualized our solution based on the current and future trend of network in India. The solution had two options to choose from. One would be using SMS as its core service, but other would be using Internet as its basic connectivity service. The main benefit of the solution is its easy adaptability to certain changes like using Internet or Wi-Fi as its main service.
Scenarios, wireframes, UML Diagrams, Interaction Diagram, Personas, Storyboards, and Task Flow diagram were constructed in the process of designing the final solution. Icons were also designed for mobile to be used for different functions like food in the menu (starters, vegetarian, non-vegetarian and snacks)

Final Solution

After the assessment of the existing situation, the technology in use, and user studies a tentative concept was generated and its feasibility was measured. Further research into the concept, its problems, its benefits, and its limitations led to the refinement of the concept. The details of the concept were thought in such a way such that the final product could be used in other campuses as well and could be commercialized easily by the cellular companies. The concept consists of three entities:

  1. Users

Users consist of the students in the campus, faculty members, the administrative staff and other officials. Basically they will be the residents of the campus who will avail this service.

  1. IITG Control System
    1. Signal Processing Unit

SPU will consist of a cell tower which will be established inside the IITG control system to identify all the messages sent by the users within the campus. These messages will be decoded by the control system and will be processed then and there itself. They will be directed to the desired location inside the campus, without affecting the outer network. This will reduce the network traffic of the operators and will reduce the monetary burden on them.

    1. Control System

This will consist of a system for processing the information given by the signal processing unit.

    1. Mobile Service Provider

The mobile service provider will provide the Signal Processing Unit and the control system. It will also be responsible for the complete maintenance and processing of the setup.

  1. Mobile

Mobiles with installed software will link the users to the IITG control system. The software will contain various functions which will enable the users to connect to their peers in real time and exchange messages. Also several benefits like ordering in the nearest restaurants, access to the university portal and security features have been added to it to shift the nature of the usage of mobile from “inter group” to “intra group”.
In terms of Techonology used, SMS and Internet were used to implement this kind of system. In order to reduce the cost and gain control over the sim and the messages (sent and received), a mobile service provider was involved in the concept. A cost model was also developed to manage the cost of text messages sent and recieved. (details in the report)

A prototype of the software was built using Flash lite and employing an iterative user-centred design approach, this project consisted of two studies.
In Study 1, structured interviews using the laddered grid method and focus groups were conducted with students to capture requirements such as users’ mental models and preferences. Laddered grids, which are graphical representations to express their mental model to complete given tasks, were constructed by participants, and a medium-fidelity cell phone prototype was developed based on the laddered grids as a result of Study 1.
In Study 2, the prototype was evaluated in a laboratory based usability test and verified with usability experts. While conducting the laboratory-based usability test in Study 2, different segmented groups with different years of undergraduation or postgraduation were asked to navigate through the software while doing some designated task.