Long before people began shutting out the world around them to stare into the screens of their cellphones, Rose Rocchio realized that hand-held devices would change the world and, in turn, the role of the technologist.

While mobile phones have empowered users, Rocchio found that they have also greatly empowered those working in the technology sector. “Mobile phones have increased the potential for impact that technology professionals have on the world,” she noted. “As technologists, what we do is in people’s hands, and it greatly affects them. That’s what’s really exciting to me.”

As the director of the Educational and Collaborative Technology Group in UCLA’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), Rocchio and her team have helped to orchestrate UCLA’s transition to mobile and are driving technological innovation in the mobile space. 

“Your phone is your communication channel,” she said. “It is the information consumption device, so companies or organizations that don’t have a mobile strategy at this point are behind the curve.”  

Rocchio and her team have made sure that didn’t happen at UCLA. Endowed with entrepreneurial spirit, she has played a key role in positioning the campus at the forefront of technology. Over the past 12 years at the university, she has worked on several ambitious projects. She and her web team have created custom content management systems for academic and research units on campus, developed a number of academic personnel projects, run the “UCLA on iTunes U” effort and helped create the Common Collaboration and Learning Environment. Most notably, Rocchio was responsible for the development and deployment of UCLA’s Mobile Web Framework, which was used to build UCLA Mobile.

Taking UCLA mobile

“In 2009, we embarked on the mobile effort,” recalled Rocchio, who earned a B.A. degree at MIT and later pursued an M.B.A. at UCLA Anderson. “We surveyed what was out there, and there was one mobile framework that looked appealing, which was built by MIT.”

After studying MIT’s mobile framework more closely, Rocchio and her team realized it was too centralized to work effectively at UCLA. 

“MIT’s framework depended on all the services being on a single server, which was not culturally going to work at UCLA. We’re just too big,” Rocchio said. “We wanted to create something that was really lightweight so everyone could leverage it.”

So Rocchio assembled a team of web designers, database managers and software experts from departments across the campus to produce a framework for the mobile web that was agnostic, platform-independent and easy to use. The result, known as the UCLA Mobile Web Framework, is available for download free of charge and is designed to work on all types of mobile devices.

While the Mobile Web Framework was started at UCLA, it has since blossomed into a collaborative, multi-campus initiative. Four other UC campuses — Berkeley, Santa Barbara, San Diego and San Francisco — have all used the innovative framework. Two other campuses, Irvine and Riverside, have utilized it on a pilot basis.

Since launching the framework, Rocchio has continued to be an active player in the mobile space. She leads the UC Mobile Collaboration Group, serves as the UCLA representative on the UC-wide Collaborative Technology Group and oversees four technical teams at UCLA, including the Educational and Collaborative Architecture team specializing in mobile web apps and open-source technologies.

Democratizing the app store world

Currently, Rocchio and her team are developing an open-source “app store” and building a network of application-sharing environments so that technology giants can no longer scoop up 30 percent of all revenue in the mobile app commercial space.

“Apple and Google have made everybody understand how to go and get an app,” Rocchio explained. “They have consumerized the acquisition of software. There are a million apps in the Apple App Store and just over that in the Google Play market that are curated by those two commercial giants.” The “app store” that Rocchio and her team are developing — called Community App Sharing Architecture (CASA) — “would allow any organization or business to publish their mobile applications without having to go through companies like Apple or Google. They can essentially create their own app store offering.” 

Mobility moves the world

In the future, Rocchio plans to continue developing new ways to leverage mobile technology for higher education and hopes to initiate more collaborative projects between the UCs.

“There are so many amazing faculty members here with rich treasure troves of data,” she said. “If you could build an app that would make that information available to the public, you gain the ability to educate and make an impact.”

This story was adapted from one published by the Institute for Digital Research and Education.