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Computer Science students get creative developing iOS apps

Team projects give undergrads opportunity to innovate, be entrepreneurial
April 28, 2017
Advanced iOS Programming students and clients came together on the last day of classes for app prototype presentations. Photos by Susan Cannon, University of Calgary

Advanced iOS Programming students and clients came together on the last day of classes for app prototype presentations. Photos by Susan Cannon, University of Calgary

Snipbooks team members, from left: Scott Campbell, Mackenzie Kary and Jason Wiker at the April 13 Computer Science Showcase. Missing team members are Patrick Czeczko and Ryan Newhouse.

Snipbooks team members, from left: Scott Campbell, Mackenzie Kary and Jason Wiker at the April 13 Computer Science Showcase. Missing team members are Patrick Czeczko and Ryan Newhouse. 

A one-of-a-kind computer science course offered this winter concluded on April 12 with demonstrations of innovative app prototypes designed by undergraduate students. The course, CPSC 599.83: Advanced iOS Programming, is a mashup of teamwork, software development and entrepreneurship.

Christian Jacob, a professor in the Department of Computer Science, began teaching this course four years ago.

“A couple of things came together back then that inspired me to design and offer this course as well as the one that precedes it in the fall — iProgramming for Creative Minds,” says Jacob. “Apps were quite abundant and students were telling me that they wanted to learn iOS programming used to create them. The popularity of iPhones had also grown and Apple was developing tools that were good for teaching, such as Playgrounds and Swift as a new programming language.”

This semester 30 students completed the programming course, working in teams to research, build and test an app prototype. In the first class, they heard project pitches from potential clients in the Calgary startup and university campus community. Four teams chose to work with clients:

  • Faculty of Science on a student engagement app
  • Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute to develop KOASK, a symptom tracker
  • ATSSL Anatomy Lab at the Cumming School of Medicine on lab equipment and sample tracking apps
  • Calgary startup company eXDee on EASE, a health tracker

The remaining teams developed their own prototypes — MurMur, an app that records heart sounds with a phone and Snipbooks, an appointment booking app for hair salons.

A win-win for clients and students

Kathleen Ralph, the Faculty of Science student engagement co-ordinator, worked with one of the teams. “At the suggestion of our undergraduate associate dean, we pitched a project to the class at the start of the semester," she says. "We were looking for help in creating an app that would pull together all of the various ways we engage with our students onto one social media platform.

“It’s been a great process, brainstorming ideas for the app’s content and interface with our team. There are still a few tweaks before it’s finished but we believe the end product is going to be very useful for our student community.”  

Mackenzie Kary is a Snipbooks team member. “Even though we didn’t have a client, we still conducted research on the needs hair salons have in terms of scheduling their customers and the limitations of current booking systems.

“This course has been a great experience. In addition to developing programming skills, we got a sense of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. And it was fun working with teammates on an actual product that could one day be available in the iTunes App Store.”

Taylor Institute space encourages collaborative process

Jacob is excited by the students’ work and grateful for the support of the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning.

“I was fortunate to have booked one of the Taylor Institute’s learning studios for the course,” says Jacob. “The flexible environment made our weekly ‘scrums’ — team presentations and discussions with the whole class — very easy. It’s just a fantastic facility that supports out-of-the-box thinking and collaborative work.

“My hope for the students in this course is for them to leave with new software development skills as well as an understanding of the key steps and requirements needed to turn an app into a potential business venture,” he adds.

“Ultimately, what happens in this class is driven by the students and their creativity.”