Pilot class helps Parkland students write applications for faculty members

Pilot class helps Parkland students write applications for faculty members

CHAMPAIGN — Eric Terhark is looking for a change in careers.

This semester, Terhark, 39, of Monticello was part of a pilot class taught by David Bock at Parkland College that may help with that change.

Terhark is a maintenance worker at a factory, but he's been writing computer programs since high school. He was one of about a dozen students who spent the spring semester at Parkland writing mobile apps for faculty members.

"It's all about accessibility," Terhark said. With a cellphone, "You've got a computer in your pocket."

It's also all about market demand, said Patrick MacKay, president of 004 Technologies USA in Champaign.

"As we have become increasingly dependent on our mobile devices, the need for more and more diverse applications has accelerated," he said.

His company, the U.S. subsidiary of a German corporation, designs and builds mobile apps. MacKay, who praised the focus and attention to detail of the projects he saw in the class, has hired one of Bock's students.

"We have been so impressed with his work that I envision Parkland becoming one of the first places we will look at when filling both full-time and intern positions," said MacKay. "There are some seriously talented programmers ready to produce if given the chance," he said.

For his project, Terhark was paired with Yelda Mullen, who teaches mathematics courses.

Terhark wrote an application that shows how constants in an equation affect the graph of the equation. Using a finger on the screen of a cellphone, he adjusted a figure and an accompanying graph was automatically adjusted. Mullen said learning the concepts involved can be counterintuitive, and "seeing it over and over again" in Terhark's app should help.

Bock started the class as a pilot project this semester.

"I was afraid 12 students would come in and want to (create) 'Angry Birds,'" a popular game on mobile devices, Bock said. Instead, the students produced complete, working apps and demonstrated them on Tuesday to an audience that included faculty members as well as representatives of local companies and the Champaign County Economic Development Corp.

The class solicited ideas for applications from the faculty, and several "responded with great ideas," Bock said.

It's not an entry-level course. Students must know either the Java or C++ programming language. The class wrote apps this semester for the Android operating system, but in the future will add Apple's iOS and Microsoft's mobile platform as well.

The course is designed to produce practical apps, Bock said, "so instead of sitting at the bus stop playing 'Angry Birds,'" students could be working on classes.

Among the other apps were a grammar quiz, a treasure hunt that is also a language game, and a medicine-dosage app that looks like a game but in which you can "kill" your patient.

All were developed with faculty as "clients" working with the students. One student already has a job to develop apps with a local firm.

It's an attempt for the college to offer new training that can lead to jobs, but it also looks at "how we could teach differently with mobile apps in the classroom," Bock said.

Mullen is all for that. She asked Bock after the student presentations when the apps would be available for download. She wants her students to have Terhark's app.

"I would hope to (have students) download it and use it in my classes," she said.

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