DePauw University and Indiana University have partnered to create the Bridge to Informatics program, designed to teach students about computational thinking and design. The most recent three-week program challenged students to create wearable technology that can monitor when a person has been in the sun or sitting too long.

February 6, 2015

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Greencastle, Ind. — Sometimes it's important to be out of your comfort zone; the result could be experiences that will have an impact for years to come. That was the goal of Bridge to Informatics, a joint effort between DePauw University and Indiana University's School of Informatics and Computing that created an intensive, three-week course that aimed to teach DePauw students about personal branding, computational thinking and design, and machine learning.

Led by SoIC Associate Professor Katie Siek 17 DePauw students took on projects to create wearable devices that could monitor when a person had been in the sun for too long or had been sitting for too long. One group branched out and designed a wearable breathalyzer to try to stand out from the crowd.

“The students have been amazing,” Siek says. “We have 17 students. Most of them are first- or second-year students who didn't have a big (technology) background. I wanted to give them an online presence they could be proud of and a portfolio they can share with others.”

Students had to design surveys, create websites and compile research to best guide their design of wearable devices. The result was prototypes – which were built through a combination of computer design, 3D printing, and electronics – that could be both practical and helpful in the future. But more important than the actual devices was the experience.

“I wanted to do a real-world situation,” Siek says. “I also wanted to have them think about how they were going to schedule their time. They got five big assignments, and those were spread out over the three weeks. They had to pick their own schedules. I also introduced concepts to them, but I made them drill down and find resources to learn more. It was very project-based, and we tried to put real-world stresses on them. They had to find resources without us giving it to them.”

The students actually enjoyed the compressed timeframe the course placed on them. Sophomore Clay Langley, who worked on a device that monitored how long a person had been sitting, says the class gave him a feel for what he can expect in a post-college world.

“When I talked to my parents or friends who have graduated, they said, 'That is definitely how it will be,'” Langley says. “I think that's a good experience to have. You better be ready to work. Don’t put it off. Sometimes it’s easy to do that in college, but with projects like these, that’s not an option.”

David Becker, a 1975 DePauw graduate and member of SoIC's Dean’s Advisory Council, was instrumental in initiating the course, and he says the class will give the students the experience they will need in the job market.

“With my two software firms, within two weeks (new hires are) with some project team,” Becker says. “Some are coders or with the user interface or with the installers. Within the first month everyone has had some kind of interaction with a client. They have to have that outside interaction in place, and the enthusiasm and the communication skills on display here are invaluable in today's world. You no longer hide behind the curtain and kick out product. You have to be on the front end of the interface scheme.”

Developing the best computer science minds and keeping them in the state of Indiana is another goal of the course. The DePauw students enjoyed the opportunity to experience the IU campus, something that could lead to the students deciding to come to Bloomington for their graduate work. Just giving students the opportunity to find out what informatics is about is critical.

“My goal was to give them an overall view of what informatics is, to give them some skills in Informatics-style of thinking, and also to give them some experience with IU and the programs we have here,” Siek says.

Becker is excited about what the future can hold for this year's students and beyond.

“One person I talked to said, 'I now have my project, and I have my profile. I created all these things I'll use indefinitely,'” Becker says. “It just gives them a great start, great exposure to business in a controlled environment. That connection has been way beyond my wildest dreams of what it could be, and we hope it will continue.”

Source: DePauw University

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