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Posted by mattdalzell | about 4 years ago

Working within the Pearson Developers Network, we get the chance to work with a lot of great developers who build amazing applications on top of our API foundation. One of the areas that can be challenging initially is simply figuring out exactly how to get started - whether it be finding talented development resources or brainstorming ideas on applications to develop.

Recently we have been fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with Jolaine Zweifel and her team who works within the CITE Office of Northwest Missouri State University. Not only are they building awesome applications (which you can review within our Showcase pages here) but they are also leveraging computer science students to head up the development work for these initiatives. The students gain invaluable experience working on these projects and the university is able to take on development initiatives they otherwise would not have been able to without these resources. Talk about a win/win situation!

Given all the great work that Jolaine and team have been doing we asked them to write up and share their insights with the community so happy reading!


The Center for Information Technology in Education (CITE) Office was created in 1998 at Northwest Missouri State University to help prepare our campus to make the transition to online course work and to support faculty in the integration of instructional technology. Part of the office staff includes a staff of student employees. Northwest is known for its Student Employment Program and CITE has taken advantage of this program.

From the very beginning, the office has hired student developers to assist faculty in completing tasks for the online environment. Northwest has three programs that provide quality student workers for our student employment program. These include an undergraduate Computer Science major, an Interactive Digital Media major, and a graduate program for Applied Computer Science. Students from these programs are eager to apply their new skills to real world problems. This experience gives the students solid hands on projects and some good pieces for their portfolio as they leave the university to join the professional world. Many times they end up giving the university a software project that is implemented.

In addition to assisting and supporting faculty, the CITE Office has slowly taken on multimedia and programming projects for the university community. Ideas are presented to our office as possible projects for our student staff to work on. Once approved as a valid project for the office, the students go to work on the design and development of the project. Once a project is implemented, it will need maintenance and updates. It seems like a project is never done. These projects often go through two or three sets of students through the design and development stages and then another new set of students to maintain and update. All of this is over seen by a project manager who keeps the students on tasks and passes the projects from one set of students to the next.

The past three years the CITE Office has been focusing on projects to help with students’ success which is a strategic initiative of the university. Three years ago we were given the task to find a way for faculty to take attendance in the classroom without taking too much time or effort. An attendance tracking service was imagined at that point, but we knew we would need to attempt this project in stages.

Project Phases 1 and 2

During the first phase of the project, we used Excel to get a basic process designed with a magnetic card readers for students to swipe student ID cards in order to record attendance data. While we were using Excel in about 20 classrooms, we also had a Graduate Directed Project from the graduate Applied Computer Science program help us design and develop the Phase 2 of software for attendance tracking, which is a web based app to use for taking attendance. In both cases, in Excel and the web app, we wanted to push the attendance data to the online gradebook. In Excel, we could use the gradebook enhanced export/import feature, but this is cumbersome and faculty find it difficult. For the web app version, we used the Pearson API’s to make a direct connection from the web app to the gradebook with the click of a button. We have found some success with this process, but we are still working out some bugs to make the process work every time.

Project Phases 3

This year in Phase 3, we have been able to take the process a step further by the design of an attendance tracking service and a Raspberry Pi Kiosk. We have been able to set up a beta test for this service using 32 course sections, 14 faculty, and 1400 students in the test. The beta test has 2 kiosks each set up in 3 rooms. All are connected by Ethernet to the network. There are 3 databases in the background that feed the kiosk computers, the schedule of courses for that room for each day, and the student rosters. All students have to do is swipe their student ID card through the card reader to be counted present for the class during its time slot. The miniature touch screen on the kiosk, informs the students of the status of acceptance of the card swipe. If a student forgets their ID card, they can type in their number on the touch screen.

Current State

Faculty do not have to do anything. They can of course look at the attendance data in the accompanying web app management module. In this web app they can check the attendance for the day and adjust a student’s attendance record if needed. For example, change an ‘absence’ to an “excused’ absence. The goal for the service is to automatically push the attendance data for each class to the corresponding course site in the gradebook in the Pearson Learning Management System on a daily basis. We do not want the faculty to have to do anything to make the system work. The data will just be there for them to help motivate the student to attend the course sessions. The faculty have a choice on whether to use this information as a part of the grade. In the gradebook, successfully uploading the attendance data will create or update three gradebook items which include Attended, Missed, and Attendance Percentage. All gradebook items are created as not counting attendance data towards the grade to date. Changing the Attended column to be in the gradebook calculation is easy to do if the instructor wants to include it in the grade to date calculation.

If we can get the attendance data in the gradebook, it can become part of the data in a dashboard for both students and faculty viewing. So we are also pushing ahead to see if we can develop a student dashboard to hold this data. Again we are depending on the Pearson API’s to make this project a success.

One of the first questions is where will the dashboard be placed so that students will see it in order for it to make an impact? Pearson suggested making an intermediary page between the login and the course page. It is like creating a new home page for the student. It would show only the current courses the student is enrolled with the grade to date and the attendance percentage. The data in the dashboard is color coded to represent percentages of success levels. The grade to date data also has links to assignments missing from the student to the number of assignments graded by the instructor. There also is a graph showing grade to date over time. This can be shown for each course individually or for all courses being shown in one graph. We are working on the student version first. We hope for success with this first phase of the dashboard, and then develop a version for the faculty to see this information for each of their students in the courses they teach.

What does the future hold?

CITE has had an extremely talented group of student programmers working in our office these past 2 years. It is with one student’s vision that we began to imagine how this might work; and it is with his guidance and motivation, all the student programmers have pushed their skills and knowledge to new heights. Everything is slowly coming together but we have one major deadline to beat. At the time of this writing, graduation for this set of students is 5 weeks away. Not only do we want the current students to finish as much as they can this next month, but we also have them now passing knowledge onto a set of newly hired students to take over once they graduate. We are looking forward to a new group of students who will step up to the challenge of assisting with university projects with new ideas and enthusiasm to implement them.

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