Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Riding Clemson's Mobile Tide

Anyone who has ever used a smart phone has come across apps, the games and social media programs that they run. Apps like Angry Birds and Foursquare have become household products, and mobile devices are quickly being integrated into all aspects of life. Dr. Roy Pargas of Clemson University"s computer science department saw this trend a few years ago and began two app development projects for Creative Inquiry.

"The reason it got started is I was teaching 101 and in the class there was this group of very energetic, very bright, very active students," said Pargas. "So I suggested forming a group, forming a Creative Inquiry, and doing [app development], and they all responded. That's the group that moved forward."

The Creative Inquiry projects have been active for several years now and have planned and produced numerous apps in that time. Notably, Pargas's students are responsible for the Clemson University Tour app, available on the iOS App Store, which takes the user on a virtual tour of Clemson"s campus, with videos and information about landmarks.

"The point of that app was to provide a tool that would allow a prospective student who couldn't make it to campus, couldn't make it to visit, get some sort of feel for the campus," said Pargas. One of his group"s projects this semester involves updating the videos in the app and creating a version of the updated app for the Android Marketplace.

Another Clemson campus app on the horizon is TeleTiger, which will allow students to submit a report to a server, and the server will redirect the message to the correct recipient. The app is being designed to allow messages to maintenance, CUPD and various other campus organizations.

The projects make use of programming tools specifically designed for app development. When developers like Apple and Google released their mobile operating systems, they also released Standard Development Kits (SDKs) that allow users to create their own apps. Both of these projects focus on students teaching each other these SDKs through research projects and presentations, and then helping each other create apps with their individual areas of expertise.

The Apps 'R Us project takes first-year students through the development process over three semesters, focusing on Android development. In the first semester, students learn to program in Java. Then, in the second semester, they learn the Android SDK, which runs on Java. The third semester focuses on designing apps that use features provided in Android phones, such as the GPS, accelerometer, and camera.

The Enhancing Campus Activity with Mobile Devices project is a condensed version of Apps 'R Us for upper level students. During the first semester, students learn to develop using the iOS or Android SDK and go on to produce an app. Students research various tools within the SDKs and present an example of how to use them to the rest of the class. Pargas encourages students in both projects to teach and help each other in the development process.

"I tell the students that in all of the other programming classes that you've taken, there"s a very strict rule: no copying. No looking at each other"s code," said Pargas. "In this class, the exact opposite is true. Not only are you allowed to copy/cut and paste, even, if that"s what it"s going to take. "I have one strict rule: if you benefit from somebody else's code, or somebody else's advice, or somebody else's effort, you have to put it in your acknowledgements."

In both courses, the goal is to create a proof of concept to present to a client-whether the client is the student creating the app or an outside group-and search for funding to continue developing the app outside of the course. Pargas wants to ensure that his students receive compensation for their work, especially if an outside client initiated their project.

"If the person who's interested in [a project] likes what they see, then at that point in the following semester it would be up to them to come up with funds to move the project along," said Pargas.

Completed apps are uploaded to the iOS App Store and Android Marketplace, and Pargas looks for conferences where they can be showcased.

"A rising tide lifts all boats," Pargas tells his students. "Think of yourselves as individual tides, and each time you discover something, then the whole class tide rises, and at the end of the semester you come up with great projects."

By: Jeff Kinnison (Decipher Issue 2, Fall 2013)