Students develop learning apps

Alyse Nelson
Staff Writer

Two Troy University students have been announced among the semifinalists for Pearson’s Student Coding Contest.
“The 2015 contest places an emphasis on recruiting college students and teams to develop original groundbreaking learning applications that integrate with Pearson Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs,” said a press release by Pearson.
Nathan Smith, a senior computer science major from Florala and one of the semifinalists, said that, beginning in October, students were able to submit an idea proposal. The 21 semifinalists were chosen from this pool and notified in at the beginning of December to begin building their app. Final designs were due Jan. 4.
Smith designed his app, called Real World, using the programming language Java. Its purpose is to create educational scenarios.
“It’s a very basic tool for teachers to walk students through,” he said. “It allows a teacher to build a scenario for a student to that degree.”
Smith compared his app to the type of questions that sometimes appear on job applications, asking the applicant what he or she would do if presented with certain situations in the workplace.
“I’m proud of what I did,” Smith said. “I had a month, but two weeks into it I had some complications, so I basically rebuilt the entire app in two weeks.
“Even if I don’t get top three, I learned a lot from this experience. I’m more experienced in C++ (another programming language), so I was teaching myself Java at the same time that I was coding for the competition.”
“As students develop their applications, they are challenged to make a positive, measurable impact on learning,” the press release said. “The semifinalist teams will complete the design and coding of their apps and present them to the contest judges, who will select the top three winners.”
The three winners will be announced Feb. 5. First place will be awarded $5,000, second place awarded $2,500 and third place awarded $1,000.
Aaron Martin, a junior computer science major from Enterprise, was also selected as a semifinalist, for his app called ClassMap.
“It allows students and teachers to collaborate ideas,” Martin said. “It’s a way to see how students think and relate to the material.”
Martin said his desire to design an app for those with learning disabilities inspired the app, but now says that this tool could be useful in all classroom settings “for any kind of conceptual learning.”
The app appears as a “character web,” where a teacher can create a “node,” or central post, based on the class’s subject matter.
Students can then create other nodes, whether it be photos, documents, YouTube videos that can be played in the app and more, which can be connected to the teacher’s original post and can show their understanding of the topic.
Martin came up with the idea on his own, but he has been working with a team of other students in order to complete the coding for ClassMap — Travis Clinkscales, a senior computer science major from Vincent; John Tran, a junior computer science major from Luverne; Bala Thumma, a senior computer science major from Hyderabad, India, and James Davis, a student at West Florida.
Martin said that it was difficult “trying to work from five different locations over Christmas break.”
“I think it has the potential to place,” he said of the completed app. “It definitely serves its purpose. I think they’ll see the benefits of this application.”
“I don’t have time to worry about it now that school has started,” Smith said. “But I hope I win.”
Eventually, Smith would like to earn a master’s and doctorate in computer science, but he would like to work in the field before looking at becoming a professor.
Martin said that this competition was a unique experience for him, as most of the work he’s done before has been on websites.
The three winners will also present their apps at the Pearson offices in Denver in February.

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