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Understanding Campus Climate With an App

UCLA's mobile app aims to tackle campus climate issues by reaching students through their smartphones.

June 22, 2018
 
UCLA
UCLA's new mobile app, BruinXperience, asks students about campus climate.

Gauging how students feel on campus is often the job of annual campus climate surveys, but a research and development unit at the University of California, Los Angeles, wants to change that.

The unit, called BruinX and based in UCLA's office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, recently developed and beta tested an app that will send a notification to students' smartphones every two weeks to ask them what they're thinking, how they're feeling and what they're experiencing on campus. The questions are simple and students are provided with multiple-choice responses as well as an option to write in short answers.

Jonathan Feingold, a research fellow at BruinX, hopes the app will provide a more complete picture of UCLA's campus climate.

"A standard way that you measure climate is through surveys that go out maybe once every three years, four years, 18 years, depending on the unit or the institution. There’s benefit to those surveys … but they’re also flat in all sorts of ways," Feingold said. "They’re a single snapshot -- it’s one look and it doesn't really give you a granular sense of what might be going on over the course of a year."

The app, called BruinXperience, was years in the making. Its design is partly based on research that shows that people are more accurate when asked what they're feeling in the moment.

"If you ask people about diet, and you ask people to tell you, ‘What did you eat in the past week? Just go day by day,’ they’re likely to get it quite wrong," Feingold said. "But if you ask someone, ‘What did you eat in the last half hour?’ they’ll remember what they ate in the last half hour … It's really good to ask people how they are feeling now, as opposed to remember how they might have been feeling even in the relatively near past.”

After two beta tests to work out the technical kinks, the app is set to launch campuswide this fall. All undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to participate after downloading the app from Apple's App Store or Google Play. Registration requires a valid UCLA student ID, and students will be asked to provide demographic information, such as gender, race, sexual orientation and campus living arrangement. In addition to responding to survey prompts every two weeks, students can log in and submit information whenever they'd like.

The beta tests did not yield enough data to run any analysis, but BruinX plans to eventually use the data gathered to measure how identity influences students' feelings of community over the course of a year, and how those feelings change in conjunction with local, national and global events.

Maintaining a high response rate tops BruinX's list of priorities. To do so, they will use part of a recent grant from the Lumina Foundation to create marketing campaigns and incentive structures that will keep students responding. "Obviously there won’t be 100 percent participation, but still, [we hope] that for a sufficient number of students this becomes a part of their normal mode of operations and they just use it consistently," Feingold said.

Assuming a successful rollout in the fall, BruinX plans to expand the app to include UCLA faculty and staff.

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