CN Announces it's First Version of the Android App

Welcome to Generation Y: A group of individuals who will forever change the way the world transforms different fields, especially in regards to education. Also referred to as Millennials, these individuals were born around 1980-2000; the same time our world was exposed to words like “world wide web,” “search engine,” and the well-known, “Internet” for the first time. Five (and coming up on the sixth) iPhone versions, a couple of app stores, and a Wikipedia search later, this era will go down in history as the “Digital Age.” How we communicate, move forward, and access information will never be the same.

So, as educators, how do we keep up? How do we make sure these students glean the greatest possible understanding from a classroom discussion and retain the information from our lectures, notes, and PowerPoint presentations (which themselves has become “outdated” by other presentation programs such as Prezi, for instance)? According to their online publication in the Educause Review Online, Baiyun Chen and Aimee Denoyelles remind us that, “Among the students who have access to mobile devices, more than half report that they use them for academic purposes” (Educause 2013).

Perhaps then the better question is: How do we make sure these students continue the learning process and stay connected to those lectures, notes, or presentations outside the classroom? And the answer to that can be found in two places: the App Store for the iPhone and, as of this month, Google Play for the Android. All you have to do is type “theCN” into the search bar, and you’re seconds away from downloading an academic social learning site that’s already known for changing the way the world learns.

IUPUI CyberLab interns Manpreet Singh and Phillip Heebner, majors of computer science at IUPUI, spent their winter breaks in 2013 developing the anticipated CN Android App. Both put in many hours of work during the short break to make sure an app would be available for Android users in the new year and the start of the 2014 semester. They collaborated extensively on the project, each sharing unique experiences that they found challenging, rewarding, and beneficial to them in the long term.

Manpreet Singh

Singh the CN’s iPhone app developer, explained several challenges. “The biggest challenge was code sharing. Because this project needed to be completed as a team, we had to make sure that the code we wrote was compatible with the code others in the team have written. There were many moments where our code conflicted with each other.” Singh continued by describing challenges communicating with the Application Programming Interface (API), which allows the app to communicate with the online server, much like a control panel. “This was the first Android app we had ever developed, and figuring out how to talk with the server’s API was difficult,” Singh commented.

As the CyberLab’s most experienced programming intern, Singh’s leadership became critical when guiding other interns through tasks and tackling the ones for which he was in charge. “Not only was I responsible for writing code, I also had to make sure that we were on schedule and that we were meeting our goals.” Despite time constraints and these challenges, Singh describes the experience he gained as a result of the Android project and working with CN team members in general, as a positive learning experience. “I’ve learned a lot about how the Android works. It’s a completely different developing environment from what I’ve worked with before. As the project progressed, so did our team.” 

Heebner programming inside the research and development lab
Phillip Heebner, who worked directly with Singh, also shared his experience with the project. A more recent intern, Heebner contributed a considerable amount of work to the Android app and performed exceptionally well while collaborating with Singh. Even as the creator of the app’s login page, post reflections page, create post form, and the logic responsible for running these functions, Heebner discovered challenges of his own. “The most challenging part for me was learning how to use a large number of tools at once. In some ways, the experience was one of the most rewarding. Manny answered many of my questions and pointed me in the right direction.”

Heebner appreciates the learning experience this project has given him and working for the CyberLab. “I’ve learned so much,” he said. “I’m thrilled to have been involved in this project. I am now more knowledgeable about network communication (HTTP requests and responses, JSON objects, API’s), and I’m also more familiar with tools in the Android toolbox such as activities, fragments, adapters, and others.” Heebner’s outlook on the Android project reiterates a key purpose that - the CyberLab hopes their interns experience: to apply knowledge and skills learned in school into real life innovation projects to build a solid foundation for their future careers. Heebner comments on how these practices have helped him grow as an intern. “I believe the most important knowledge I have gained through this experience is an understanding of the big picture and how all these different parts fit into an application as a whole.”

Below is a complete list of functions that will be available to Android users who download the first version of the CN App:
·         Login/Logout
·         Ability to view limited posts on post feeds
·         Basic implementation of profile, course, and Conexus* pages
·         View and post reflections
·         “Like” reflections
·         Create posts with or without picture attachments
·         Ability to select visibility settings when creating posts

Users will be able to access the basic functions of CN on their smartphone. Singh reassures Android users that more advanced features are on the way. “This first release is just the beginning,” Singh said. “Users should expect to receive many more app updates, which will include more sophisticated features. The goal is to make this app function the same as the iPhone app.” 

Interns like Singh and Heebner have shown a great appreciation for projects like the development of the Android app for CN. It has given them a deeper perspective on how to begin a project that is never “complete,” per se, but instead always being refined and improved. The magnitude of this project and the opportunity for this type of ongoing learning has given Singh and Heebner something to take pride in as developers. It has also given them some insight into all the things they still have to learn. “We can’t say we are experts in this field just yet, but our skills in Android development have definitely improved,” said Singh.  

Supervisors and computer information technology professionals at IUPUI are thrilled that more interns will be joining the CyberLab’s team as it continues to grow. Long term projects, such as Singh’s and Heebner’s, not only strengthen the importance of technology outside of the classroom, but allow students to apply their coursework in a real-world setting.

How do you encourage learning outside of your classroom? What steps are you taking to get there? Generation Y might have changed communications and education, but CN is keeping up. Are you?

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