By now, most Case Western Reserve University students are used to the familiar CampusGroups icon on their lock screen, notifying them of an ID card gone astray, an upcoming movie showing in Strosacker auditorium or a biology textbook in need of a new home. If it wasn’t for Discover Week mayhem, I’m sure most of us wouldn’t have downloaded the app and considered its potential to help us connect with organizations, events and students on campus. However, following our initial excitement over the application’s ability to propel our college lives, we began to uncover imperfections in the system that led us to sideline its use. For those requiring a refresh, CampusGroups—launched in 2005 and used by 70% of the world’s top colleges—is a mobile platform that allows students to engage with their campus community through access to clubs, alumni and events. Created to encourage student engagement, this app offers various features, including a live feed, forums and group pages, tailored to making a space for students to network and seek out opportunities. However, despite developer Yorick Ser’s noble intentions, this app currently has certain, difficult to overlook, technological and design flaws that impede its ability to be a resource, rather than a burden, for students.
Among these issues are the poorly located features within the mobile app and an inscrutable user interface. For instance, with the QR code scanner being used as the primary method to sign into in-person events, it is inexplicably hidden within the “More” subsection. Navigating to this feature can be especially confusing for new users, and even once found the scanner does not load reliably. This frustrates both students and event coordinators in everyday use as it slows the registration process.
Another major hindrance is the layout of the “Events” section. Organized in a way that requires students to scroll through events listed in order of date, it is not uncommon for the page to get glitchy or crash. Especially during busy weeks, such as orientation or Greek Life rush, it can become tedious to find and register for activities on campus, causing some students to bypass the online registration process altogether. This leads to even more chaos on the event day. Additionally, the overly simple formatting can make it difficult to determine the intended audiences for events. Club and Greek Life meetings are often blended with campus-wide events, so separating them based on type would help students better identify and register for events suited for them. A majority of the Greek Life events posted on CampusGroups are open events, meaning anyone can attend, however this is not evident anywhere on the app.
A final design issue is in the details provided within the “Groups” section of the app. Used to find clubs on campus, this subsection lacks adequate information for each club. While there are options to access the club’s website and view the member roster, there is no direct access to an email or number to contact every club’s executive board directly. Only some clubs provide personal CWRU emails for their executive officers—it is not a requirement for all officers. Even the linked websites are often poorly edited templates with little content. For these reasons, when exploring clubs, we are left to rely on short descriptions in the details section of the group page, which often vary in length and quality.
While such shortcomings are vast, the app does succeed in offering a space for students to ask questions, sell items, find roommates and foster connections with other students. Furthermore, the CampusGroups feed is more reliable than online marketplaces such as Craigslist, giving students a sense of reassurance and comfort when reaching out. This, in turn, has created a small digital community, where students may shamelessly troll for used textbooks or iClickers. On a more serious note, this feed has offered students an affordable and safe way to access class resources and has even helped reunite some with lost IDs.
Evidently, for CampusGroups to continue to live up to its mission statement, it needs to make specific design changes to make features more accessible. Among these changes is a better club interface to provide descriptions and contact information. Also, the app should make regular updates to ensure that all new clubs are immediately added to the CampusGroups system. Lastly, finding a way to rework the method of searching and registering for events will encourage students to use this platform more often as a way to explore the campus and find things they are interested in. Overall, I think we can all agree that CampusGroups and platforms like it are a vital part of the community-building mission of college campuses around the world—especially CWRU. However, developers need to make it a more efficient platform that reflects the ideals of modern-day students and technology standards. Only then can it bolster its relevance and user base.