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used to spend about $13,000 per lab space just on elec- tronic sensors,” she said. “We are saving that amount of money for each lab we are setting up.”
A second version of MyTech was released in February 2017 that added a “gravitational toggle” and other features. A smartphone can’t distinguish the forces of gravity and accel- eration, so even when sitting still on a table it is still picking up the force of gravity, which can be confusing for physics students, explained David Tredwell, senior interaction design-
NC State’s MyTech app
er and developer. “We were able to tap into other sensors on the phone to toggle the gravity reading on or off. Students can do experiments with or without gravity registering.”
The team also encountered an accessibility issue related to color selections. The data lines displayed in the app use colors to help distinguish one from another, but there are a number of forms and varieties of color blindness that make these hard to read. To address this issue, Tredwell said the team had to test different color combinations to develop an alternative color mode.
The design team is finalizing another improvement — allow- ing students to do the analytics from within the app, rather than having to go to Excel. “That is very important,” Tredwell said. “One of the biggest bottlenecks is getting out of the app and into Excel. We are working to provide students a full-screen, interactive view of the data they have recorded.”
In initial data-gathering efforts, approximately three-fourths of the students observed and interviewed indicated that they like the MyTech app for conducting physics experiments. But one challenge to deploying the app was getting buy-in from teaching assistants leading the lab work, Countryman said. Many of them came through introductory physics labs them- selves using traditional equipment, so teaching using different technology was uncomfortable and unfamiliar, she explained. “Addressing that head on was something we could have handled better. I took for granted that it was intuitive and
everyone would want to do it, but we discovered there were some real cultural differences among grad student TAs.”
One of the project coordinators, Sam Sridhar, did a study of how TA attitudes toward the app impacted student learn- ing. “A majority of TAs who hadn’t bought in were interna- tional and came from educational environments where intro- ducing new technology was strongly discouraged,” she said. “We need to improve the training of the TAs on MyTech labs. I am creating a manual that should help TAs maximize student learning.” The team is also redesigning lab curricu- lum around the app’s use.
MyTech is freely available worldwide in the Apple and Google Play app stores. Since it was first created, it has spread to other campuses in North Carolina and beyond. “One professor at the University of Minnesota has his students do their capstone project using the app to create experiments of their own in the real world,” Countryman said. “They are using it on swing sets and car roundabouts, and that is exactly what we wanted. Students have the opportunity to take experimental tools outside the lab.”
As far as new features, Tredwell said, “We are keeping our ears to the ground to see what new needs emerge. Every time we introduce something new, we run into the next thing we know we can do better.”
David Raths is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.
CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | November/December 2017

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