• General Best Practices
Tech Tuesday Episode 5: Why should you have both a mobile app and responsive website?
Andrew Martin

Tech Tuesday is a vlog series for directors of technology at schools and districts. Finalsite's sales engineer Rob Rawcliffe and our recent cybersecurity grad Cristina Pawlica will discuss a variety of topics in education technology every other week. In this episode of Tech Tuesday, Cristina and Rob discuss an important question: Why should your school or district have both an app and responsive website? Watch or listen to the video below to learn about the unique benefits of both a mobile app and responsive website, as well as how the two can come together to provide even more powerful ways to connect your school or district community.

Cristina Pawlica:
Hi, and welcome to Tech Tuesday, a video series for directors of technology working in education. My name is Cristina. I've been with Finalsite for two years now and recently graduated from Denver University with a Master's in Cybersecurity. I'm here with Rob Rawcliffe, our resident expert in all things tech. Rob?

Rob Rawcliffe:
Hi, everybody. My name is Rob Rawcliffe. I've been with Finalsite for eight years now, and before that I worked in a high school in Connecticut, private high school, and before that I worked at a private boarding school for middle school. And so that did me quite well, technology-wise, learning things to give me the tools to use in this job.

Cristina Pawlica:
Awesome. And Rob is very generous in sharing his experience with us here at Finalsite and is also able to apply those to you and what you're going through now. As you know, Finalsite is all things websites for schools. But today we're going to be discussing the question: What's the benefit of having an app if my website is already mobile responsive? So first, what does it mean to have a responsive website?

Rob Rawcliffe:
So, a responsive website is really something that has kind of matured over the last few years. There used to be a time where you had a mobile site, sorry, where you had a site, and then you had an app as kind of a companion to the site. Now, the technologies have got to the place where really you can have one site, and it's going to look pretty much the same, no matter what device it's on. It's just going to stack, and it's going to change a little bit depending on the device. So we've really got to the stage now where you can collapse your window smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and really reflect what kind of screen size you're looking at. And that design should collapse, and all the information should still be on there, it just may be in a little bit different format. So, responsive design is really about having a design that collapses and looks good on any kind of screen.

Cristina Pawlica:
So, if a school has a responsive website, why would a school consider also having an app?

Rob Rawcliffe:
An app nowadays, some schools, we definitely hear that they want apps because they've always had an app, and they want to keep having an app. And that's fine, it is a great companion to the website. But nowadays you're seeing clients and school districts, private schools, they're really looking at apps as a very specific niche market, maybe for looking at grades, or maybe for a portal, or maybe for your LMS, something like that. It's usually a very specific purpose.

Rob Rawcliffe:
So nowadays we're seeing, with our clients, it's really more of a communication tool and getting the information into the hands that you may see. So in most cases, things like your lunch menu, your calendars, athletic events. Those are things that people are going to the website most often for, so it makes sense to have those in an app because that way it really puts that information at the tip of your fingertips. It still really shouldn't replace your website, and it shouldn't be instead of your website. It really is in addition to, and it's really for a specific group of constituents within your community.

Cristina Pawlica:
So if the mobile app is really for your internal communications and your internal constituents, is it fair to say that the website is best used to, or oriented towards, your community and prospective families in outside communications?

Rob Rawcliffe:
Yeah, I think that would be a fair assessment. If you think about user behavior, if somebody is looking to relocate to another state, another city, whatever that may be, chances are, they're going to go to a Google search that may be on the phone, it may be on the desktop. They're going to do the Google search, and those results are going to come up. Now when you have an app and you're relying on people to use the app, that's where things can start to get a little bit complicated. Because on one side, you want people to be able to get to that information really quickly. So if you have all your information on the website, that's great. You can get to the website, you can see it, you're going to get good search results. And more to the point, you don't have to download an app just to gather information.

Rob Rawcliffe:
Whereas if you have an app and you're using that as your primary source, then that may become problematic because you may not get accurate search results in Google because your community is actually searching for certain things within the app, but they're not getting those results through to Google. So really be careful when you're choosing an app and deciding whether your school needs an app first and a website second, because the website should really be a good reflection of what you want your marketing side or the public side of your website to be. So it's kind of a long answer, but hopefully that helps.

Cristina Pawlica:
Yeah, that helps a lot. So what comes to mind next is, does having both of those communications platforms, since both seem to be equally necessary, how does that affect the man-hours for small communications and technology teams?

Rob Rawcliffe:
It can complicate things for sure. A well-designed app shouldn't really increase the man-hours. It really should help you and be an addition to the team. So with our app, we are able to reproduce that content in the app when it's put on the website. So really you're not maintaining two different things. If you do have to start maintaining content in an app, as well as a website, that's where you really want to think about, is an app necessary, what if I really redesign the website so it's a little bit more responsive and helpful in a mobile app, maybe that would negate the need to have an app to do some of the function. And so, again, if you've got a specific purpose for the app, that's fine, have an app. But if you're looking at it as part of a communication thing, and it is taking you a little bit more time, is it necessarily worth it, or is it really adding to the benefit of your communication strategy?

Cristina Pawlica:
That's a good litmus test to have. I heard that Finalsite's app has some kind of feed so that you're not doubling the work. What are some other features in the Finalsite app that may help schools versus other options that are out there on the market?

Rob Rawcliffe:
One of the things I like about our app is it's integrated into our messaging module. So if you send a message in Messages, you can have it pushed out to the app as well, and you're going to get that little icon saying you've got one message or two messages, and you can go in there, and you can click on that. And then you also have the ability to filter out things that are more important to you. So my daughter's a soccer player, my son's a swimmer, so I don't need to see the football, I don't need to see hockey, or things like that. So I can filter those out, and I can just get customized content right in my app, and it's going to remember me if I've logged in. So if I do have a portal, I can get into that portal, and I'm not logging in every time. It's just right there in the app for me. So that's really useful and helpful.

Cristina Pawlica:
Excellent. If you'd like to learn more about Finalsite's app, you can go to www.finalsite.com/software/mobile-app-notifications. If there's anything else that you'd like to learn, feel free to e-mail marketing@finalsite.com.

And you can even do that if you're looking for a demo of the Finalsite platform or mobile app. Rob and I would be happy to help you there. Until then, we'll see you next time on Tuesday for more Tech Tuesday knowledge from Rob Rawcliffe. Thank you, Rob.

Rob Rawcliffe:
Thanks, Cristina. See you.

For more on mobile apps and responsive websites, read these blogs:

  1. Responsive Vs Mobile-First Design: What’s The Difference?
  2. Mobile Apps Vs. Responsive Websites: Why Your School Should Use Both

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