Centre College students develop new app to assess learning outcomes

Posted by Centre News in News 30 Nov 2016


With thanks to a generous grant from the Teagle Foundation, Centre College students have created a new app designed to learn more about and track skills learned in general education courses and the overall curriculum.

Under the direction of Associate Professor of Computer Science Michael K. Bradshaw, who provided some light graphic design assistance, three students were responsible for building the app from start to finish.

web-app-2b

Calling themselves the Centre Course Skill Assessor team, Seniors Yifan Li (a computer science and math double major) and Nicholas Miller (a computer science major and math minor) worked with junior Alexandra Cody (a computer science and German double major) throughout the fall.

The interactive app will solicit responses from students about learning outcomes in eight so-called soft skill areas: social awareness, critical thinking, communication, creativity, problem solving, teamwork, intellectual openness, and empathy and perspective.

“The results will positively assist the advising experience,” said John Wilson, the H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Mathematics, who is currently overseeing the assessment of Centre’s general education curriculum and coordinating the College’s grant project activities. “We hope the process will help students reflect on their personal educational experience in terms of the important skills they learn,” he said.

While the project is on going, and the app is sure to be tweaked here and there, the initial rollout will take place on Thursday, Dec. 1 during the College’s Common Hour. To encourage participation, all those who have contributed feedback for at least three courses will be entered in a drawing for various prizes. Winners will be selected Saturday, Dec. 3 at midnight and contacted by email.

The web-based app—reachable by any desktop computer, laptop, tablet or cell phone connected to the Centre network—is available here.

Yifan Li, who did much of the back-end work such as setting up a server and connecting to a database, also implemented the course browse/search page.

“The project was challenging,” Li said, “since we were using a set of tools unfamiliar to us, which made for a slow start.” Nonetheless, he added, “The experience was very valuable because these tools are common in real-world production and not something we learned in class.”

For her part, Alexandra Cody found most difficult the challenge of “figuring out how we wanted to visualize the skills we were asking about. It was incredibly difficult to determine what the most intuitive and easy-to-understand visualization would be, which is why we decided on a radar chart.”

The rest of the design, she said, followed from there.

Nicholas Miller performed much of the initial research on curriculum design for liberal arts colleges. As a result, he said, “I started to understand more about why students at Centre have to take such a diverse range of classes.” He found that “The mantra for liberal arts curriculum design, not only at Centre, is to give students more perspective on the world.”

For the Teagle Foundation, having students understand the coherence behind the curriculum is critical to the ongoing success of the liberal arts and sciences model of higher education.

In addition, Miller helped make sure the web version would look good on a desktop computer.

While Cody doesn’t see herself doing additional work on app and web design as a result of the experience, which she still values greatly, Li and Miller definitely do.

“After doing this work,” Miller said, “I am planning on developing more apps in the future and have become even more interested in developing software professionally.”

Li agrees. “I will definitely build more apps, since I believe web applications will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.”

The $50,000 Teagle Foundation grant was awarded in June 2015 to Centre and three other members of the Associated Colleges of the South: Millsaps, Rollins and Sewanee.

Titled “Making Curricular Coherence Explicit for Students: Enhancing Faculty Communications as Teachers and Advisors,” the two-year grant is already well on its way to helping enhance attention to and articulation of curricular connections between student learning outcomes gained in general education courses and courses in their majors.

In addition to Wilson, Sarah Lashley, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, serves as project director, overseeing the project as a whole for the four campuses.

Best of all, the project was highly educational for the students involved and is sure to serve a greater purpose.

“I’ve really enjoyed working on a team to create something for the College,” Miller said, a sentiment that sums up well the College mission to prepare students for lives of learning, leadership and service.

by Michael Strysick
November 30, 2016