Student IT Innovation

In this category we invite students to show how they have used technology to enhance the experience of studying at Oxford, both for themselves and for their peers. Our three equal winners have worked to find innovative solutions to challenges in three different areas of student life: their subject of study, keeping up with the student news media, and increasing their brainpower.

Amber Barton: Mechanisms of Gene Evolution

GenesAmber, an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, has produced a colourful website to support revision. She writes:

Although much of university learning seems to revolve around essay writing, many of us are visual learners and retain facts much better when presented to us in an aesthetically pleasing and memorable manner. I wanted to demonstrate that biochemical topics could be presented in a fun, colourful way and that revision can be more interesting than re-reading one’s lecture notes.

Having researched the topic, Amber designed a simple website using the software Serif Drawplus X3 and then published it using the Moonfruit site builder. She received good feedback from her tutor about the content of her site, and it is now going be used as a teaching material for future undergraduates.

Sarab Sethi, Patrick Beardmore, & Max Bossino: Cherwell Apps for Android and iOS

Nowadays most news is read on smartphones and tablets enabling the public to keep up to date with the latest and most exciting stories as they break. However, Sarab Sethi, a student at Mansfield College, noticed that student newspapers had yet to make the full transition to the digital format. Even though the award-winning website of the Cherwell newspaper was registering approximately 100,000 unique views monthly, there was still no easy way to view articles on a mobile device.

cherwellappSince Sarab had experience in developing Android apps and was interested in taking on a larger project he approached the director of Oxford Student Publications Limited (OSPL), Max Bossino (Brasenose College) asking whether he was interested in an official Cherwell app. Patrick Beardmore, a deputy editor of Cherwell and student at St Hugh’s College, was keen to develop the iOS app. So, with the backing of OSPL, they got going, setting a deadline of Fresher’s Week 2013 for the launch. They also enlisted the help of Adam Hadley, an Oxford alumnus who had developed the Cherwell website.

Developing the apps was only one part of the challenge; the next part was getting people to use them. The team pursued an active advertising campaign, both in the printed newspaper and online, to encourage readers to download and engage with the app.

The apps have really made an impact, with more than 1,000 downloads across the two platforms. They have an average of 4.85 stars out of 5, and with reviews such as ‘Perfect accompaniment to the newspaper’, ‘Easy to use’, and ‘Well designed and quick’ the project seems to have been a success.

The team plans to release the code for both apps under an open source licence on GitHub. They hope that this will contribute to the sustainability of the project and ensure that the apps stay up to date with best practices in the software industry.

Sarab’s tip to would-be app developers? ‘Just go for it and get started, but be prepared to learn on the job.’

Taimur Abdaal: Speedsums

Speedsums - Dave mockupTaimur, a student at University College, has developed a simple web-based application to help students hone their mental arithmetic skills. In an era where students are relying on calculators for even basic arithmetic, he hopes that the site helps to remove some of the stigma associated with maths and to show that it can actually be quite fun.

Speedsums received over 32,000 visits and over 100,000 pageviews in the first month after its launch. Four hundred and fifty  people have tweeted about it, and  530 people have shared it on Facebook. In total, over two million sums have been done worldwide

Taimur advises:

Think of a reasonably simple idea that you might like to build, and then find out what you need to build it – which technologies and programming languages etc. Online resources are amazing when it comes to learning to code. No matter what programming problem you face, if you spend long enough trying to solve it, you’ll either figure it out or figure out a way around it. The first few things that you make will be absolutely rubbish, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it and people will end up liking what you built.

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