In 2009 I contacted Dr. Ralph Deters in the Department of Computer Science, U of S with an idea for a mobile course delivery app. Dr. Deters was teaching Mobile & Ubiquitous Computing and I was keen to see how this could be leveraged by a distance education unit such as ours. After a series of meetings we quickly assembled a team of interested people from various groups around campus. I drafted a project proposal and soon secured initial start-up funding through the Saskatchewan Government’s TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) initiative that would employ two Graduate students to work along side the team in development.
- Jordan Epp, CCDE – Project Manager, Instructional Designer
- Ralph Deters, Dept. CS – Programming Supervisor and Designer
- Flavio Ishii, Grad Student – Lead Programmer
- Bill Wallace, Head of Student Computing Services
- Richard Schwier, College of Ed. – ID Consultant, pilot course designer/instructor
- Cyril Coupel, IT Dept. – Infrastructure and Server Management
- Amanda MacKenzie, IT Dept. – Infrastructure and Server Management
- Jennifer Hysuick, IT Dept./Grad Student – Lead programmer for back-end server
- Frank Bulk, Learning Centre – TEL funding manager
The initial idea was to create an app that would not only deliver content to students on a mobile smart phone, but one that would also create a platform in which they could communicate openly and collaborate with each other. The initial design was struck and agreed upon with several stages of development planned.
Stage One: Content Delivery
The first stage was to create a basic content delivery system with several key features in mind.
- the ability to update the content in one central location and have it pushed out to the app.
- content was to be available from a central online server, but also downloadable for offline use.
- integration of rich media content with existing phone apps.
This stage required extensive development on the back end with a dedicated server and proprietary programming to achieve the “push” of content.
Stage Two: Two way Communications
The second stage was to create a discussion forum. Again the concern was to have this forum available both offline and online. Students could read existing posts and reply to posts offline and when their device was connected through WiFi their comments would be pushed to the server and updated on any other device connected to the internet.
This stage also required extensive development to make the comments flow in two directions. Pushing content out to phones is one thing but receiving information from thirty or more mobile devices and then pushing updated information back out to the rest of the students was a real challenge.
Stage Three: Location Based Collaboration
The third stage was to integrate a location based map in which students could choose to share their location with fellow students in an attempt to bring cohorts together when they were nearby. Along with a chat function, students might see a peer just around the corner and initiate a face-to-face interaction to supplement their online communications.
This stage was never realized as the project was cut short due to a commercial product becoming freely available making our project somewhat redundant.
In the end the application was abandoned when the University moved from WebCT to Blackboard Learn 9, which included an integrated app with our existing online courses. Although the features and design were very different it became redundant to continue development on our mobile project.
The deliverables that we’d produced were as follows:
- a functioning content delivery app for iPhone devices
- a set of app icons for all the features of the app
- a functioning back end server to push and pull information to and from devices
- a functioning discussion forum that worked both online and offline
New collaborations between the various groups and departments involved have continued to develop as a result of this initial project and relationships among the units continue to grow.