An App for Coordinating Group Activities

Coordinating Group Activities
Study abroad programs can be quite complex because they require constant coordination between groups of students related to changing itineraries, transportation logistics, and unexpected incidents, among other concerns. Over the course of several study abroad programs, a few information technology (IT) faculty members experienced with domestic and global student travel encountered a handful of challenges rooted in communication barriers while on an international travel program.

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Study abroad programs can be quite complex because they require constant coordination between groups of students related to changing itineraries, transportation logistics, and unexpected incidents, among other concerns. Over the course of several study abroad programs, a few information technology (IT) faculty members experienced with domestic and global student travel encountered a handful of challenges rooted in communication barriers while on an international travel program. When a student is separated from the group, the entire group is affected. A few years ago, two faculty members and a couple of students spent half a day looking for a student who caught the wrong train back from a day trip in London. They were only in London for three days, which was a significant portion of their time there. This could have all been avoided if everyone had a phone plan and the phone numbers available. The faculty had difficulties communicating with each other because one had a voice plan and the other had a text plan. Additionally, the student did not have either of the faculty members' phone numbers. The school now expects all travelers to have a phone with an international plan and to share their phone number with the faculty leaders as well as the faculty member sharing their numbers with the students. This has helped some, but they have still faced several issues with sharing changes in the schedule and even just having students keep track of the schedule and a list of contacts. To combat this, the school researched mobile apps that were available for student travel but did not find any apps that had the features they were looking for. So the faculty members and a group of IT students from Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) decided to create their own mobile app and share it as an open source project. The students were able to use this project for class credit in a project course. The front page of the app includes the schedule for the current day with the ability to scroll through all of the other day's activities. Students have profile pages in the app that introduce them to the other travelers and provide a link with their phone number. The app also has the list of contacts including staff from the school and the faculty on the study abroad experience. The app was created using technology the IT students already knew: HTML 5, CSS 3, and JavaScript. These technologies were used in conjunction with Adobe PhoneGap, a technology they had to learn for this project. It took about three weeks for the students to learn the technology and write the app. The students entered the app in a local innovation and app development competition and were awarded second place. The app was easy to distribute the app to users with Android devices, but it proved much more difficult to distribute the app to iPhone users, who had to go through a more complicated process to be able to download it to their phones. WCTC plans to expand the app's reach in their study abroad programs this year by distributing it through the app, available in the App Store and Google Play, as well as by incorporating a journaling component, which enables students to record their adventures by writing journal entries that include pictures and text. These journal entries will be able to be saved as a PDF file so that they can be submitted to the faculty if required. This app can be used for any school needing to manage a study abroad program. But it need not be limited to those programs. Faculty taking students on a weekend or even a day trip can use the app to coordinate activities and improve learning outcomes through the journaling function. Even a trip to a museum or other site will be better managed through this app. The current version of the app requires an individual with some technical ability to access the code from the site http://tripmyschool.com and modify it. The process is completely documented and should be a great opportunity for an IT student to gain a little experience. The app is unique to each trip so it cannot be listed in the App store or Google Play in its current form. This fall the students will be working to modify the app so that it can be published in the stores in the spring. The current form of the app is generically named “School Group Travel App,” which should be changed to match each trip it is customized for. When the app is distributed in the stores, it will be named “TripMySchool.” The experience also demonstrates how to enlist students in solving a school problem. Students often have the skills to contribute technical solutions to problems by building websites, wikis, making videos, and so on, but faculty seldom think of using their resources. Harnessing the intellectual power of students can solve a problem and provide a valuable learning experience for students, a win-win situation for all. Matthew Green is an instructor of Computer Information Systems at Waukesha County Technical College.