SLS in Computer Science Capstone Design

March 25, 2019

This spring marks the first semester that the Computer Science Capstone Design program is offering an “SLS Section.” This section’s curated partnerships give CS majors an opportunity to engage with local nonprofits, social impact entrepreneurs, and community organizations as their project partners. The students of the SLS section had their own Introduction to SLS session in the beginning of the term and were required to attend SLS’s Service Learning and Community Engagement Orientation. (Should you want to watch/use the video of the SLS SLCE Orientation, please just contact SLS’s Service Learning and Partnerships Specialist, Ruthie Yow.) With these foundations, students in the course are encouraged to see themselves as co-learners and co-producers of their design, drawing on their partners’ expertise just as the partners draw on theirs.  They are also urged to view their project as just one part of a broader relationship; for example, the SLS section is home to two projects that emerged from an SLS Foundation course last term—SLS 3110: Technology and Sustainable Community Development.  The CS Capstone teams that inherited these two projects, which support the work of the Center for Sustainable Communities and the Hampton Roads EcoDistrict, are also being partially advised by students who took 3110 and created the deliverables on which the new teams are focused.  This example of “next mile” project work both further advances the aims of the CSC and engages the insight and experience of students who have already invested themselves in both the projects and the partner relationship. The SLS Section can—we hope—serve as a means for productive collaborations on sustainability focused projects, as well as a vehicle for relationship-building that will endure beyond the course. Below, Brittain Fellow Dr. Katie Schaag, who co-teaches CS 3311/LMC3432, offers her reflections on the work of the students in the SLS Section thus far.

As an LMC instructor of CS 3311: Project Design / LMC 3432: Technical Communication Strategies, I teach junior and senior Computer Science students working on client-based capstone projects. My CS co-instructor Caleb Southern and I guide students in project management, effective team dynamics, and clear communication as they work to research and design software solutions to client-identified needs. Throughout the semester, they write a product vision statement, conduct user research, define the minimum marketable features, develop user stories and scenarios, test a paper prototype, create a coding demo, deliver a presentation, and write a reflective memo. All deliverables are aimed toward practical application of CS software development principles in real-world projects, and also align with the Writing and Communication Program’s principles of multimodal WOVEN communication (written, oral, verbal, electronic, nonverbal). This course is the first part of a two-semester sequence; in the second semester, students implement their design and program software for their client. For a more detailed explanation of the course, see this article by Kelly Ann Fitzpatrick in TECHStyle.

This semester, I’m excited to be working with the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain! My Junior Design students are paired with SLS community partners to develop software focused on ecological, economic, and social sustainability. Thus far, my co-instructor and I are impressed with students’ enthusiastic engagement with social equity and sustainability, and their desire to dialogue with and receive feedback from community members in order to design user-centered software for positive social impact.

For example, one group of students called Team Infinity is working with the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) to develop an online version of ACFB’s current Community Food Experience simulation, which educates the public about food insecurity and poverty. Team Infinity’s vision statement focuses on the importance of cultivating empathy through simulating the experience of attempting to acquire adequate nutrition with limited resources. For their user research, they participated in ACFB’s current live simulation with the goal of translating key aspects of the immersive experience into the online version; directly observed other participants in order to gain another perspective on user interactions within the current system; and distributed surveys to participants to gather more information about their individual experiences.

Another group of students called Team TechLanta is working with Saving Our Sons & Sisters International (SOSSI) to develop an application to connect Atlanta community leaders and service providers with the audiences they seek to reach. Team TechLanta’s vision statement focuses on the need to engage communities of all socioeconomic classes. For their user research, they distributed surveys to Atlanta residents to learn how they currently discover events and services, and they reached out to individual event organizers to learn about current best practices in getting the word out about community events.

Another group, Team StreamViz, is working with the Upper Oconee Watershed Network (UOWN) to develop an application to visualize data about the water quality in Athens-Clarke County. Team StreamViz’s vision statement describes the need to make the app intuitive and user-friendly to ensure the widest possible accessibility for UOWN’s volunteers and community members. For their user research, they surveyed volunteers to learn more about the aspects of water quality that are most important to them such as temperature and acidity, as well as their familiarity with various kinds of data visualization.

In light of what we see as the potential fruits of this exciting innovation, SLS is delighted to work with CS Capstone’s talented students and instructor team.  We look forward to checking back in on these dynamic teams and partners!