TCNJ campus tours: there’s an app for that

TCNJ campus tours: there’s an app for that

A team of computer science students created an iPhone app that helps prospective students and their families learn about the College and easily navigate the campus. “The College of New Jersey Campus Tour” app is available as a free download through the iTunes store.

Patrick Pierson ’11, Chris Smith ’12, Ryan Bailey ’12, and James Czepiel ’11 designed the app, which features an interactive walking tour of campus and provides current information on the College’s academic programs, sports teams, campus events, and more. The app can even guide users to the correct parking lot on campus.

There is also bilingual support for Spanish speakers and a voice-over feature that reads aloud on-screen text to visually impaired users. Czepiel oversaw the development of these two components; Spanish major Damian Robles ’14 helped with translations and Cory Samaha ’11, a computer science student who is blind, helped test the voiceover accessibility.

“It’s a nice feature to have,” Czepiel said about the voiceover component, “and many apps don’t offer it.”

Visitors unfamiliar with campus can use the app’s navigation feature to map the most direct route from their current location to any building on campus. Rather than pre-program the app with every possible route, the team designed it to “determine the shortest path on the fly” using a special algorithm, Bailey explained.

The students designed the app under the direction of Deborah Knox, associate professor of computer science, as part of a capstone Mentored Research class on mobile application development. The topic isn’t yet part of the standard curriculum in the computer science department, but Knox predicted it would be soon.

“A growing number of students have these [mobile] devices and want to learn how to program them,” she said. “The biggest challenge is getting the hardware needed to do so.” For their “TCNJ Tour App,” the team needed an iPhone and a Mini Mac—“the lowest-cost implementation we could find,” Knox explained—both of which were acquired through grants from the Department of Computer Science, the School of Science, and the Department of College Relations.

None of the students had experience building iPhone apps prior to starting the project. Although Bailey and Smith had created Android apps on their own, they said their work on this project required them and the others to learn how to code in a different programming language and environment. Since each student worked on a different component of the app at the same time, the students also learned how to work with versioning software, which tracked changes to the product.

“It was a complete team effort,” Pierson said of the project.

The research experience quickly paid off for the students. After seeing an early version of the Tour app, Local Wisdom, a Web design and development agency based in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, hired Smith, Pierson, and Bailey to help create Weatherwise, an iPhone and Android app.

“Weather applications are some of the most widely used apps on smart phones,” Pierson said. “To make ours different, [we used] artistic themes in the background that change based on the current weather.” For instance, if it’s raining and windy outside, the animations on the Weather Wise app user’s device visually indicate this.

“The students were absolutely amazing,” said Tracy Severino ’07, a digital strategist at Local Wisdom. “We were blown away by their knowledge, passion, and unwavering commitment to working through this project to see it launch successfully.”

Czepiel’s work on the TCNJ app helped him land a summer internship developing apps for QVC.

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