The State of Mobile-friendly Websites in the New Zealand Tertiary Academic Sector
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Tertiary academic institute websites act as an important marketing medium for targeting prospective students (Jabar, Usman, & Awal, 2013; Williams, 2013). Younger New Zealanders, aged 16-19, are the highest Internet users for information seeking, and mobile phones have become one of the most used devices for this in New Zealand (Gibson, Miller, Smith, Bell, & Crothers, 2013; Research New Zealand, 2015; Statistics New Zealand, 2013; The Nielsen Company, 2013). Chances are mobiles may have also become important for course related information seeking by NCEA Level 3 students, aged 17 to 18 (New Zealand Qualifications Authority, 2014), intending to pursue tertiary education. Therefore, websites suitable for viewing on mobile phones, known as mobile-friendly websites (Google Developers, 2015), have become crucial for both marketing and information seeking (Ho, Ooi, & Amri, 2010; Pegoraro, 2006). The presentation of institute websites, which host an enormous amount of web content, is a technically challenging endeavour for viewing on mobile phones (Marcotte, 2011; Williams, 2013; Wroblewski, 2011a). This research aimed to examine how well New Zealand tertiary institutes, namely Universities and Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), have utilised the current technology to offer mobile-friendly websites to potential students. The significance of this research is to inform future practical implementations and research, focussed on the creation of mobile-friendly websites. Collectively, three interconnected queries were investigated: First, a comparison was undertaken of the three contemporary technological methods, including: Dedicated mobile websites, Responsive Web Design (RWD) and Adaptive Web Design (AWD) (Google, 2013), to create mobile-friendly websites for tertiary institutes. Secondly, an exploration of the exclusive target audience needs for course related information seeking, some of which include device preferences, importance of mobile-friendly websites and how their performance impacted the student opinions about an institute. Thirdly, discovering the current state of mobile-friendly offerings by the targeted institutes and key considerations for future development. Secondary research combined with several primary research activities of a quantitative and qualitative nature, involving a range of participants, ensured a comprehensive investigation. Given that the domain of this research was contemporary technology, and that this field changes rapidly, there was an understandable lack of traditional peer-reviewed academic literature at hand. To ameliorate the lack of academic credentials, care has been taken to ensure authors have professional credentials and are authorities in the field. Following are some key conclusions. Under the current circumstances, RWD has proven to be the most appropriate solution for building mobile-friendly websites for New Zealand tertiary institutes. The predominant use of mobile phones to access academic institute websites for course related information was unexpectedly low, with a preference for bigger screens indicated. However, there were high ratings on the perceived importance for tertiary institutes to offer mobile-friendly websites. Also, there was a strong correlation between the effective performance of an academic institute’s mobile-friendly website and perception of an institute’s professionalism. Out of 24 institutes, all but one had mobile-friendly websites. A clear gap existed between the well-executed websites and the ones in need of significant technical improvement. ITP websites were more in need of improvement. Well-executed websites formed a majority, were effective in their implementation with many commendable traits that would aid information seeking and decision making for the prospective students. Based on this majority, the current state of mobile-friendly websites in New Zealand seemed to match the presently desired outcomes. Academic institutes need to be mindful that technologies and devices continue to evolve rapidly and must be continually examined. Consequently, several areas of potential research have been identified throughout this thesis.