Robert Quigley says he has the most creative, tech-minded students out of the entire student body at the University of Texas at Austin’s campus.
These students -- 13 computer science majors and 13 journalism majors -- are part of a unique multidisciplinary course in app design that involves working in teams over the course of a semester to build a problem-solving iOS application.
And this Saturday, to culminate the class, the teams will showcase their ideas and products at their Demo Day. The event even features a panel of judges from Austin’s media and tech sectors, including Nick Bell, the head of Snapchat Discover, and Debbi Hiott, executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman.
Quigley's digitally minded and knowledgeable about mobile products, he says, yet not able to build an app from start to finish, which is why he brought in Austin developer Jeff Linwood as his tech counterpart to lead the spring course.
The class itself, which has been offered twice before, is itself a result of out-of-the-box thinking. Quigley pitched the notion of bringing together journalism and computer science students as a big idea to distinguish himself from the competition when he was vying to be hired as a UT professor in 2011. Faculty supported the idea and hired him.
During the first spring the app class was held, Quigley tapped into Austin’s tech scene and attended meetups to find a co-professor. In the process he found Joshua McClure, who’s since launched startup Real Massive.
Once accepted into the highly competitive course, students divide into teams of four or five and spend several months not only building and testing the apps, but blogging about their projects as they unfold and producing at least four videos that market the app.
“We’re pulling from pretty much every discipline,” Quigley says. “We give the teams a few weeks to come up with their app idea...From there there’s not really lectures during class; we talk for five minutes at the beginning (of class) and then let them work, floating around the room.”
In terms of ground the app can cover, Quigley says there really are no restrictions -- just an app that can reasonably be built during a semester and that originates from a problem that needs solving.
“It doesn’t have to be news or even media-related. We just don’t want Angry Birds,” he says. “Part of the benefit of the class is figuring it out, coming up with an idea and seeing it through.”
To Quigley, iterating and finishing a product is much more of what he wants the students to achieve than even creating something long-lasting -- although a number of the teams have submitted their apps to the App Store so the public can use them.
The apps that will be showcased Saturday are:
UniTrade: A sleek buy sell trade app that Quigley says is akin to Craigslist for mobile. Users must have a UT email address so it’s positioned to start as a campus-specific app.
Echoed: The app allows users to record a phone call while they’re doing an interview with a source and then keep the audio filed. They’re also able to parse words recorded from the conversation to find a particular place in the file. This team has done extensive product testing with journalists, who are considered a target market,
iSleepLate: The app figures out precisely when someone needs to wake up to get to a destination at a precise time, taking into account traffic patterns and how long the person needs to get ready. From there, the app functions as a sophisticated alarm and route planner.
Petwork: An Instagram for pets, this app lets users showcase and share pet photos either on a regular day or if a pet has gone missing. Quigley says this team had to build an entire social network and plans to bring actual dogs to Demo Day to market the product.
choreBoard: A humorous, sometimes snarky to-do list style app to help roommates and dorm mates better figure out who needs to do which chores. Quigley says he likes that it “lets the app be the thing that’s passive aggressive” instead of the housemates. This was the first app of the class to be submitted for App Store review.
Profs UT: This application lets the university’s journalism school show off its professors’ personalities, expertise and strengths. As students decide which courses to take they can view video interviews with the professors. Quigley says some questions were humorous -- like whether the professor has ever had a mullet -- and others more focused. The app also lets users check out professors’ course ratings and syllabi.
Demo Day is open to the public and begins at 1 p.m. Saturday on the second floor of the Belo Center for New Media at UT.
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