Young Universities Summit: track phones to improve campus, says v-c

New universities must seek innovative ways to improve the student experience rather than simply mimicking older institutions, says Peter Coaldrake

April 5, 2016
Peter Coaldrake, Queensland University of Technology
Peter Coaldrake, vice-chancellor and president of the Queensland University of Technology

Tracking the movement of students around campus using mobile phone data can help universities to improve teaching and learning facilities, a leading vice-chancellor has said.

Speaking ahead of the Times Higher Education Young Universities Summit, which takes place in Barcelona from 5 to 7 April, Peter Coaldrake, vice-chancellor and president of the Queensland University of Technology, said that more universities should seek to find out more about where students are based and where they are learning.

Professor Coaldrake, a former chair of Universities Australia, who is one of the keynote speakers at this week’s conference at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, said that his institution had tracked the mobile phones of its 50,000 students to identify where they spent most of their time.

This exercise, which collected data for one particular day, had produced some surprising results about the study habits of students, Professor Coaldrake told THE.

“We have two beautiful city centre campuses and students chose to be on campus, but they were not behaving in the traditional way we expected,” he said.

Some students were visiting the campus as early as 6am, while others did not arrive until noon, although they then tended to stay later into the evening, said Professor Coaldrake.

The analysis also showed which social spaces were inhabited most by students, which libraries they attended and how they accessed their learning materials, he explained.

“It helped us to better understand how students were actually learning and engaging with teaching materials, rather than simply assuming we knew how they should do it,” he said.

“It helps us understand the sorts of buildings, facilities and services we should be investing in and how we might organise student services.”

Other universities should consider using similar GPS-related monitoring of student phones to assess how students use the estates of multi-campus universities, Professor Coaldrake added.

“If you supplement it with your student survey material, you have some pretty good information,” he said.

However, the information was studied on a collective basis only and was not meant as a means to monitor the attendance or behaviour of individuals, he added.

New universities should seek other types of innovative practice to improve teaching and learning in order to compete with more historic institutions, said Professor Coaldrake, whose university was founded in 1989.

“Respect the traditions and age by all means, but don’t think for one minute that you’ll get to the top of the heap by mimicking older universities,” he said.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments


Print headline: Making tracks: mobile data show where students are and what they’re doing

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips