Page 31 - Campus Technology, November/December 2017
P. 31

had done some research on the use of smartphones in physics labs and believed that a well-designed app could take advan- tage of the smartphone’s sensors to replace proprietary equip- ment in conducting experiments.
“I thought there had to be some way to capitalize on stu- dents’ familiarity with personal technologies,” she said. “Then they could focus their attention on the concepts that mattered rather than on figuring out how to use the hard- ware and software.”
Countryman launched an app development effort in Sep- tember 2014. She had been working on the idea for about six months when a colleague mentioned that NC State’s DELTA (Distance Education and Learning Technology Appli- cations) department made grants available for projects such as hers. With the internal grant funding, she was able to work with a team comprised of multimedia specialists, an animator, a designer, an instructional designer and project coordinators to develop and pilot the MyTech app. The first version was released in July 2015.
Here is how it works: In a given lab, students are first pre- sented with a concept or challenge that requires them to set up and conduct an experiment. They begin by considering the problem and then download the MyTech app to their iOS or Android phones. They configure the app for their experiment and set up any necessary equipment, such as a pendulum or cart (where the phone will be attached). Students use the
app to record data over the course of the experiment. For example, they might attach their phone to a cart and push the cart into a spring while recording the accelerometer data to analyze the motion of the device. They then review the data on the device or e-mail themselves the data to do more in- depth analysis in tools such as Excel or Google Sheets.
Yan Shen, instructional designer, said one goal was to get students not only to use the smartphone app, but also to understand how the phone’s sensors work. Initially when the development team asked students how an app like this worked, they would say things like “magic” or “Bluetooth.” The team created a dynamic schematic of was happening inside the phone. They developed a mass and spring visu- alization that models the motion of the accelerometer inside the phone, so that students can gain a deeper understand- ing of how the data is collected. “We wanted them to under- stand what is going on inside and how it relates to basic physics concepts,” Shen said.
One early challenge was how to make sure students had the same experience on both iOS and Android phones. That problem was solved by developing in a platform called Cordova, which lets you develop in one language and publish to both.
While Countryman was focused on pedagogical gains, another potential benefit of the MyTech app is financial. Tra- ditional lab data collection devices can be expensive. “We
CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | November/December 2017
NC State students can use their smartphones to explore physics both in and out of class.

   29   30   31   32   33