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For students, primarily Millennials, technology is second nature and an integral aspect of their lives. That’s why for campus rec centers, technology can be used to both enhance the student experience and make running the department easier.
Tim Mertz, the director and general manager for MIT Recreation, said when considering implementing new technology you must first answer the question, “Is it the right fit?” There are dozens of technology products available, so rec centers must closely analyze if the technology will meet their needs.
Mertz has been with MIT Recreation since early 2012. He directs the administration and management of all programming and operational aspects of aquatics, fitness, customer service and facility maintenance, and consults with the leadership of multiple departments. With so much involvement throughout the rec center, he places high importance on if a technology investment can be “scaled.”
“If we chose something that is only good for fitness, then we likely won’t invest a lot of time, energy and effort into something that benefits just one program,” said Mertz. “But if it can be used across fitness, intramural clubs, aquatics and other services — well then, there’s something there.”
Aside from being scalable, Mertz said technology you’re considering has to offer one of two things. The first is increasing participation and engagement, and the second is delivering some sort of administrative efficiency. Once the product passes these tests — doing at least one of those two things and is aligned with the direction the rec center is headed — then they move forward with looking at cost and an implementation timeline.
According to Mertz, technology has found its way into every nook and cranny at MIT Recreation. MIT utilizes technology for intramural sports, faculty scheduling, point of sales, member management and on the fitness equipment itself. “We have digital signage and displays which have proprietary software, and then our competitive aquatics has meet management software and a timing system,” he explained. “We have different rowing machines that have their own app, in addition to the Myzone heart rate tracking system and app. We have InBody’s composition analysis technology and the digital display and data tracking that it provides. There is so much.”
As for recent evolutions in technology trends, Mertz said he’s seen a shift in wearable technology, with more students now having wearable devices than not. He sees this as an opportunity for rec centers, not a conflict. “People are buying wearables for themselves, for their own personal interest — and if they’re choosing to also subscribe to our programs and services, then it just makes sense to start to bring those two things together,” he said. “This benefits the students and ultimately improves their membership experience. If we can help them to reach their goals because of some consumer choices they made on their own, then we should be doing that.”
With this in mind, MIT Recreation sells Myzone heart rate trackers online and through its pro shop. In addition, they’ve incorporated the technology into certain programs to facilitate its use, including the indoor cycling studio and functional training program.
However, Mertz said technology alone isn’t enough to keep members interacting with your rec center; he cited the sociability of classes as a large part of keeping members engaged once the newness of technology fades.
“I think people are just naturally inquisitive,” said Mertz. “They want to see how they’re performing and they’re learning more about the physiology of their body, and I think that keeps them engaged. What we’ve learned is that engagement — if you just rely on just the technology, just the tracker — eventually dwindles after three, four or five months. So it requires our people and our programs to find new and innovative ways to keep that engagement level high.”
David Peters, the associate director of campus recreation for Florida State University (FSU), also sees the potential of technology to be a great tool for engaging students. With this in mind they are currently working with upace to launch a user-facing mobile app.
“Mobile applications certainly are the area we are most focused on,” said Peters. “Our students are on the cutting-edge of technology, and therefore we try to be as well. Mobile apps are an area that we know our students are ready for and we want to be able to create those experiences for them as best we can.”
For rec directors considering investing in a mobile app or any other piece of technology, Peters explained it’s vital to do your due diligence. At FSU they look at vendors both big and small, consult with technology professionals on campus, determine what students’ needs are and if the technology will be sustainable moving forward.
Ultimately, Peters said it can be a balancing act between determining what technology will benefit the students and what technology will benefit the campus rec department’s administrators. “We don’t want to adopt a product that only makes our lives better as administrators, but does not make our patron’s lives easier,” he said. “We want technology to be a shared experience. We want everyone to have a positive result in the end. So we look for technologies that will enhance participant experience and make their engagement with our department easier — we know technology can help with that.”
If technology boosts patron engagement and also helps the rec center run more efficiently, that’s the best-case scenario. According to Peters, FSU has found that in InnoSoft Fusion. “Their software provides us with some very important tools as administrators to really streamline the operational aspects of our programs and department,” explained Peters. “Efficiency is certainly very important, and that kind of technology has really helped us administratively with a lot of different pieces of how we run campus rec here at FSU.”