SFU benefits from students' computer skills

June 24, 2004, vol. 30, no. 5
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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They were originally hired to push audio-visual carts between classrooms.

But SFU computing science undergraduates Oleg Titov, 23, and Dmitry Nasanovich, 22, decided to expand their duties by designing two powerful software programs that benefit students, staff and faculty alike.

The two international students - Titov is from Russia, and Nasanovich from Belarus - started working part-time in SFU's classroom technology assistance centre (CTA) in 2002, where they quickly identified an opportunity to redevelop the scheduling system for audio-visual equipment.

“The existing system for managing schedules and inventory was outdated and of limited function,” observes Nasanovich, who is in second year. “It was a huge waste of time and resources. It required someone to input every piece of information manually and it generated thousands of pages of paper printouts.”

Last fall, after eight months of development, the two implemented a new office management system that streamlines the scheduling process by integrating data from the registrar's office.

“Years of frustration with our so-called professionally developed software ended overnight when Oleg and Dmitry presented a program that worked faster and more economically,” says CTA manager Rick Law. “It was a bonus that it was developed by students. These guys rock.”

After the success of their first project, Titov (who is in fourth year), and Nasanovich immediately turned their attention to the next challenge: creating a digital audio recording system to make class lectures available to students on the internet.

For three decades, CTA has recorded thousands of lectures and made the cassettes available through the Bennett library. The problem, says Titov, is that “the technology is outdated. No one uses cassette players anymore.” As well, cassettes are easily damaged, and often go missing from the library. And someone had to be available to insert the tapes into the machines for recording the lecture. “It took a lot of time and money to process all those tapes,” says Nasanovich.

This September, after a year of development and testing, Titov and Nasanovich will launch a fully automated, digital recording system that will make password-protected lectures available online to SFU students within minutes of being recorded. The class recordings will be available in Windows and MP3 audio formats, and may, depending on the professor's instructions, be available for downloading.

The digital recording software is completely integrated with the scheduling software so that “it takes 30 seconds to input the lecture schedule for one semester,” says Nasanovich. “All the rest happens automatically. That's it. End of story.”

Titov and Nasanovich say their startup costs were in the order of $35,000, and they expect the project to pay for itself in two years. They have given SFU a lifetime licence to the software, but hope to be able to sell it to other educational institutions. They aim to one day have their own software company.

“We have so many ideas,” says Nasanovich. “There are so many ways we can think of to improve the educational system and make classrooms more fun. We would like to stay and do it here at SFU, and we are hoping for the financial support to make it happen.”

For more information about the new digital audio recording system, call 604-291-4828 or email aw@sfu.ca.

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