James Madison University

Apps4VA Challenge Winners Announced

PHOTO: JMU Students collaborate on computerOn Thursday, April 25, a team of James Madison University computer science students were announced as first-place winners of an Apps4VA challenge. Eric Smith, Sydney Schmit, Logan Herr, and Jiryung Jeong made up the team Schmërloji and will share the $500 prize equally.

Apps4VA was jointly launched by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and The Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) as a software application development program.  Funded by a federal grant, this program challenges the public to review K-12 education data and use it to design applications that lead to better data-driven decisions and strategies.  A series of public competitions were launched during the summer of 2012.

Although the public competition concluded in January, Dr. Chris Mayfield decided to model his Database Design and Application class on the public challenge format and told Apps4VA about his idea.  They enthusiastically supported his plans and formalized the challenge for the students, offering monetary incentives to first, second and third places winners, as well as the group who displayed the best teamwork.

The class of 60 students was broken into teams of three or four based on the results of a student survey.  Each team came up with their own proposals for the problem solving application.  On February 26, representatives from the VDOE and CIT visited Mayfield's class to share goals for application development.  They were able to meet briefly with each team to provide feedback and guidance on their proposals. 

As Bethann Canada (CIT) said, “We wanted to do something different, something that is rarely done in education, and that is to build a diverse community around data in an attempt to solve real world problems.”

The winning group's application analyzes test scores of various demographics at specific schools, and uses the data to create a yearly investment calculation. The goal is to outline the relationship between budget and student performance, in an effort to measure which investments lead to student success.

Senior Eric Smith explained, “Suppose mathematics scores for a specific group of students have been positively impacted by increases in budget at 3 out of 5 schools, but appear to have no effect on the other 2. Administrators, teachers, and parents will wonder, in what ways did these schools use of funds differ? Could the schools learn anything from each other? This is one of many different scenarios, and the application allows for analysis of scores by race, gender, level, and subject.”

PHOTO: Apps4VA observerMayfield added, “I had no idea that Apps4VA would be so interested in our project. I sent them a short email at the beginning of the semester and everything took off from there. The judges were absolutely thrilled with what the students came up with. They were very inspired by what they saw and hope students will continue to develop apps for future competitions.”

The competition benefited the students in many ways.  They gained experience with building a multi-tier application while working with gigabytes of real-world data.  It was a good opportunity for them to present ideas and receive feedback from industry and government representatives. It also gave them insight into the types of data currently being collected about K-12 students, along with challenges about equity and performance in the public education system.

View the video announcement of the winners

To learn more about Apps4VA visit their website

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