Accelerated app launch renews remote community

Positive user response prompts Biola to pursue new features for use on campus.

Graphic+by+Micah+Kim+%2F%2F+THE+CHIMES

Graphic by Micah Kim // THE CHIMES

Ashley Grams and Maria Weyne

“One of the things that’s a hallmark of the Biola experience is the community that we share together,” said Lee Wilhite, vice president of enrollment, marketing & communications. “That’s often a word that people cite, that they so appreciate about Biola. It’s the community that’s here, it just feels different.” 

Wilhite saw the need for accessible communication and virtual community long before students faced a remote semester. On Aug. 31, Wilhite and his team released the Biola App which connected Biolans across the globe just in time for the fall semester.   

ACCELERATED LAUNCH

According to Communications Specialist Sarah Bogert, creating an app specific to Biola was a university vision long before she arrived. When Bogert began her time at the university three years ago, Biola was partnered with Ready Education, an app development company that seemed to fit what the Enrollment, Marketing & Communications was looking for. Although the project was meant to kick off in the spring, plans changed due to COVID-19. 

“Initially we had hoped to start this project in spring, but we kinda had to pivot a little bit because that was right around the time that COVID hit,” Borget said. 

The hard pause on app development was no surprise, but the quick turnaround accomplished by both the EMC and Ready Education was. Wilhite explained the original plan was to build the app within four to six months but instead was completed in 60 days. 

“We were grateful that we were able to expedite it in the last few weeks of the summer since we were going to be remote,” Bogert said.

The need for the app came with Biolans being scattered across the world and the EMC saw a gap that needed to be filled. 

CRAFTING A NEW COMMUNITY 

The app was originally intended to supplement communication within Biola’s community, but according to Bogert, student need has changed. 

Staff and faculty are able to create profiles on the app and connect with their students. The EMC hopes that communication on the app can emulate a student’s opportunities on campus. In the future, Wilhite explained, they hope to have profiles for Biola alumni and donors. Community members will then have a continued connection to campus and have access to events.

“Our hopes shifted right once we determined ‘OK, the fall is gonna start out remotely,’” Bogert said. “Initially our hopes were to improve student communication but now it kinda shifted to how are we going to be able to help foster that community.”

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

Currently, Wilhite’s team is working on new features for when students return to campus. These features include chapel schedules, a campus map and menus for Biola’s dining locations alongside their hours of operation. Additionally, Borget explained the app will be linked to Canvas and MyAccount, both of which are services used by Biola students for account holds, homework and financial services.

While these features will be rolled out over the next year, students can expect to see additional changes, like connections to Canvas, next month.

USER GROWTH

The app continues to grow in popularity with thousands of downloads since its release. According to Wilhite, over 1,200 users were active at one point last week. Students continue to engage with features on the app and the five most popular include the ‘get connected’ feature, the ‘new students start here,’ upcoming events, chapel schedule and the Global Student Programing and Development page. 

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