TRI Creates Mobile App for PSU Program Conference
August 12, 2016
By Jeff Denton
Many people go to conferences every year for work or in support of causes they are passionate about. Conferences offer great opportunities to network and learn strategies to move a cause forward. But conferences can also be overwhelming, with overlapping session schedules and multiple locations, not to mention what to do around town on those off hours.
Many conference hosts have begun to offer their participants online options for navigating all these details. But if an organization would like to make this available, who’s going to build it and do they really have to “reinvent the wheel”, so to speak?
Sharing technology with colleagues
In 2015, the National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) at TRI built a mobile app for their annual summer conference, DB Summit. The app, called DB Connect, allows conference attendees to browse the session schedule, find handouts and other materials, locate restaurants around the conference venue, and post comments about sessions.
An attendee at the 2015 DB Summit thought the app might be useful for another event and demonstrated the app to Holly Lawson, director of the Visually Impaired Learner Program at Portland State University. The Visually Impaired Learner (VIL) program is a nationally accredited graduate program to prepare teachers of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities. Portland State University offers the only program for this type of training in the Pacific Northwest.
Holly contacted a colleague of hers at TRI in Spring of 2016 and asked if the app might be tailored to her program’s 3-week face-to-face session beginning in June. After the necessary contractual agreements were made, the Technology & Information Management Services at TRI (TRI-TIMS) staff began modifying the DB Connect app to better suit the needs of the VIL face-to-face program.
Course Schedule and PSU Campus Map
The VIL program packs a lot of sessions, held at multiple locations, into a three week period. The course schedule feature helps students keep track of upcoming sessions and workshops while the PSU campus map helps them navigate the Portland State University campus to locate their next session easily.
The Materials feature provides a place for course instructors to make handouts, slideshow presentations, questionnaires, and forms available for viewing or download by the app users. While not always useful in the context of a small screen like a smartphone, this feature at least allows students to preview the material with which they will be interacting during their sessions.
Students attend the VIL program from all over the United States, so many are unfamiliar with the wide variety of dining options within walking distance of the PSU campus. The app dining feature uses the Yelp! Service to provide a list of local restaurants ordered by distance from PSU.
When a user taps on an option in the list, a nice restaurant detail view pops up showing Yelp! reviews, map to the establishment, and options to call or visit the restaurant website.
Updating the App
A few of the sessions had details, such as location, instructor, day/time, that were unknown at the outset of the 3 week face-to-face course. It was critical that the content displayed in the app be easily updated at any time without releasing a new version of the app. This flexibility was achieved by using a feature of the NCDB website called Groups. Groups are password protected, topic specific workspaces on the website where users can share events and documents, participate in forum discussions, and build wiki pages. By creating a group workspace dedicated to the VIL app, the course director can log in to the group, update the session schedule and materials, and these edits will be instantly reflected in the app for all users.
Satisfaction in Sharing Technology
It was great working with the people from PSU’s Visually Impaired Learner Program. And it’s a great feeling of satisfaction to see that the work we do within NCDB and the TRI-TIMS Center can find utility and purpose elsewhere.
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