Challenges in mobile [device] support – moving to a more formal footing

I’m currently in the process of specifying what has received broad support in principle and perhaps is proving difficult to articulate in formal documentation, so I’m putting this out as background. Perhaps of wider interest to colleagues attempting something similar?

Short version: simple support microsite shell structure needed that reduces number of clicks/taps by embedding rather than crosslinking into other site hierarchy. Content hosted in other areas. Mobile optimised, using key generic guidance, self-help and peer support for specifics. Community self-sustaining via forums.

Given that the OU is a large organisation, one thing we’re told we do well is student support, whether mediated face-to-face, over the phone or via the numerous websites and detailed ‘how-to’ guides, we try to cater for all types within our student body. The case becomes stronger of course when introducing something new.

One of the drawbacks of this is that there are then many different teams or siloed parts of the organisation that provide material, some so similar as to duplicate content and/or purpose. There has been a good effort to centralise core advice so that yet further (dated) versioning doesn’t creep in at a subject level. Immediate colleagues and myself have probably been a little bit closer to this diversity than the average member of staff or student, most recently in my case for building up Google Apps at the OU.

What I’ve aimed for in the past is a good level of interconnectivity and crosslinking between resources and better delineating where something fits in the spectrum of support. From a mobile user experience point of view, the ‘transaction cost’ of clicking (or tapping) through to multiple websites is an additional key issue for some, not least due to timely download and impact on data allowances and cost for some larger website templates. Of course things should ‘just work’ on mobile too, and where possible should be convergent (or aggregated).

Coupled with the ‘standard’ support aspects of introducing a new tool or method of access is how much can be provided by the OU – generically, and how much needs to be customised, not just by use case but sometimes by platforms/devices. This is why it would be helpful to respond to the student survey that indicated that a degree of self-help and peer support would be possible to add in to the mix for mobile.

So… from what I’ve been able to evaluate, we need a microsite – basically a shell that:

  • hangs off whatever new top-level mobile access point we have
  • is optimised for mobile web delivery
  • includes key information (particularly for novices) on cost, roaming etc.
  • covers specific OU official, generic guidance
  • provides for self-help approaches via an existing help and FAQ system
  • connects other mobile learners to discuss and help with device specifics from a peer-to-peer standpoint
  • is ready before wider publicity and release of new mobile options (!)
  • once established, can self-sustain to continue to be current and responsive with minor structural changes/upkeep

Unfortunately the OU doesn’t (yet) have a single technology that will allow for the range of activity outlined, drawing in multiple sources while providing a community or peer-support angle. The range of content or guidance is fairly simple and can be allocated or to some existing areas (my crude characterisation below):

  • Key information to know: mobile data costs, travelling abroad (roaming), use of WiFi, apps & mobile/desktop web [ PC4Study - context & rationale]
  • Official support for: Mobile VLE view of course materials, use of eBooks, audiovisuals, interactives [ Online Computing Guide - feature list & 'how-to' ]
  • Self-help for common queries and generic advice [ Help & FAQs ]
  • Peer support for device-specifics, escalating key requirements [ VLE forums ]

In all of this it’s not really where some of these features are located, more that there is a good, easily accessible overview rather than relying on search coverage and accurate queries/metadata. Contextual help will also be available of course, though slightly different from the popups and ‘tooltips’ used on desktops.

Whether this is a microsite, shell, launchpad or whatever I’d hope that for mobile support at least we can improve on a site that just links off left, right and centre. Embedding, feeding and consuming web services would be ideal in this scenario.

I’ll keep you posted as to how we get on!

2 Responses to “Challenges in mobile [device] support – moving to a more formal footing”

  1. Rhodri Thomas Says:

    I’ve also now added a visual mockup of the kind of things we’re after in Prezi (since I find it quite handy to annotate screenshots that you can zoom in and out of): Mobile Support microsite plan

  2. Rhodri Thomas Says:

    Attempt at embedding:

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