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NEXIS Class Explorations Teach New Skills and Lessons

By: Diane Stirling
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  One student project was an interface that allowed this houseplant to send a Tweet when it needed water.

Emerging applications and programs, computer kits, and high-tech gadgets that could become the next “big things” were demonstrated at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) last week as students displayed technology explorations they researched, applied, and built in IST 200, or “NEXIS Class,” this semester.

Teams of students tackled technologies as diverse as Little Bits, Arduino and MaKey MaKey inventor kits; 3D printing; the Leap Motion app, and Occulus Rift. Many found that the hands-on learning provided lessons that will stay with them along their academic and career paths.

Alex Blayer, a freshman Information Management and Technology major, plans to follow the development of future refinements of the Occulus Rift, a wearable 3D visualization simulator tool he researched for his final project. “I’m definitely going to follow it and see how it evolves when it is for sale on a consumer level. I would like to figure out how programs are developed for it, and maybe develop some for it myself,” he observed.

Their hands-on efforts with Little Bits, component computerized pieces designed as a tech-skills teaching tool, also influenced the career interests of two students who paired for that project. Elise Lambson, who is pursuing her masters in library and information science, said that while she plans to continue that path, the exposure to developmental technology she’s had through NEXIS Class “has me looking at my library degree in a different direction.” She sees how the skills learned can be incorporated into a library setting to help colleagues and patrons, she added.  “You see plenty of the technology that’s already been produced through its commercial advertising, but it’s interesting to see what’s in the works and to be able to be able to play around with it.” Elise took the class because “I wanted to get better acquainted with CSS and some of the programs that I never would have thought of before. I would like to learn how to build apps; they are skills I could see becoming very valuable in a library setting.”

Teammate Branden Birmingham said working with the Little Bits components “taught me about how circuits and electronics work and how complex they actually are,” but the experience produced a valuable life lesson, too. He found the class “very relevant to seeing how we adopt new technologies.” He especially liked the experimentation process—even its inevitable bumps in the road—because “nothing goes perfect. You’re probably never going to experience the same thing twice.”

Elena Chwat, an Information Management and Technology senior and Global Enterprise Technology minor, created a circuit board with chips and receptors to build a machine that monitored the moisture levels of a houseplant – then tweeted its status, including when it needed watering. “It was a really great experience learning how to put it together. I had to solder a circuit board – I’d never done anything like that before. I had always been more interested in design aspects, and this was my first exposure to this kind of programming. It opened the door for me for this kind of experience. Now I’m definitely interested in creating programs and trying other kits. If I’m doing well I might consider it as a career,” she explained.

Basketball enthusiasts Ben Glidden and Rob Fink, who both hope to work in that sports field, tried their hand at an advanced statistics technology by exploring the analytics company SportVu.

Through cameras, SportVu technology captures all the plays and player movements throughout a game in real time, then aggregates the data and posts it online. The data is then available for everyone from fans to players to executives to review, analyze, and put to various uses.  Fink, who wants to work in digital media in basketball, plans to use his NEXIS class project to showcase his skills to potential employers. To him, NEXIS class “was great because it really helped me think about what I want to do, and it’s helped me think that I can use the future of technology with what I know now, to have a career in the field I want.”

Glidden, a Newhouse School of Communications public relations major, also wants to work in social media. He says his NEXIS class explorations and this project have taught him that, “information isn’t power–it’s harnessing information that really gets you places. You can have all the information in the world but if you don’t know how to use it…information is the most important thing out there.” 

Glidden said he took all the iSchool courses he could because of his interest in digital media, and that NEXIS class “helped me think about information and data in a different way.” He said that exposure has helped him see that there “are opportunities everywhere. Everyone—every company no matter what the field—everyone needs their information managed.”

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