Ross Kwong (project lead), Tony Dinh (lead developer) and Ricardo Haro Colmenero (quality assurance engineer) showcase the SFU app to a student in the Academic Quadrangle.

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Free app helps students navigate life at SFU

November 12, 2015
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By Caitlin Dawson

SFU has a cure for the lost-on-campus blues—the first official University app to help students navigate university life.

Designed by a group of undergraduate computing science students, the free app can help you find the nearest bus stop on campus, keep track of classes and exam schedules, find your lecture hall, and more.

It’s proving popular, with more than 2,800 downloads in less than two months.

A personalized home screen allows users to check transit times, course schedules, and weather on campus at a glance.

“That’s one of my favourite features,” says fourth-year computing science student Ross Kwong, the project lead.

He is one of seven computing science students who crafted the app in just four months, working with a dedicated steering committee of campus representatives.

“We had so many ideas, so one of the biggest challenges was actually narrowing the scope.

“We selected features that we thought would be most useful for students starting the new semester, and for visitors to the campus.”

The team used data from focus groups and surveys, conducted by the Simon Fraser Student Society, to rank features based on popularity and ease of implementation.

The app is still evolving. Over time, more features will be added and existing features fine-tuned, says Kwong, adding that the team is looking for feedback and suggestions for future iterations.

The project stemmed from a competition in spring 2015 in a project-based course called CMPT 275, Software Engineering I. Led by industry veteran and SFU adjunct professor Herbert H. Tsang, the course teaches students how to work in teams using software engineering principles to create useful apps for the Apple mobile device operating system, iOS. 

“This class is all about hands-on experiential learning,” says Tsang. “Students work with a real client on a real-world request at every stage, from design to implementation to market.”

Each semester has a theme, with recent endeavors including apps for healthcare, fitness and people with disabilities.

Tsang had been teaching the course for five years when Mark McLaughlin, SFU’s director of Ancillary Services, approached him to suggest using the class as an incubator for an official SFU app.

“We wanted to develop an official portal for students to get information and also for the University to engage students,” says McLaughlin.

“We work closely with students, and we want to make their lives easier. Students have a pulse on what their peers want, and we hoped this project would also inspire entrepreneurial thinking.”

At the end of the semester, students pitched their projects, Dragon’s Den-style, to a panel of SFU judges.

“We were blown away by the computing science students’ expertize and talent,” says McLaughlin. “They demonstrated impressive technical skills and originality and their graphical interfaces were intuitive and accessible.”

The judges selected seven students to take the project forward and work on the official app, which was approved by the App Store in September 2015.

Available now for iOS devices, plans are underway to develop the app for Android users. Another top priority for the team: expanding the room-finding feature to include the Surrey and Vancouver campuses.

“It’s such an important app, and to make it a success involved the dedication and determination of many people,” says Tsang.

Developing the app required collaboration among multiple SFU departments including Facility Services, Ancillary Services, IT Services, Student Services, Safety and Risk Services, the Simon Fraser Student Society, University Communications and faculty members.

“It was all done in good spirit, and they had a can-do attitude that pulled them through the challenges,” says Tsang. “They know this is a big project with big impact that’s going to help students and represent SFU to the outside world as well.”

User can provide feedback and download the app via the SFU Apps page: https://www.sfu.ca/apps.html

Back row: James Leong (quality assurance engineer), Arjun Rathee (developer), Kevin Grant (developer)
Second row: Mark McLaughlin (executive director, SFU Ancillary Services), Justin Lum (senior developer), Ricardo Haro Colemenero (quality assurance engineer)
Third row: Ross Kwong (project lead), Kamal Dhiman (financial analyst, SFU Ancillary Services), Tony Dinh (lead developer), Herbert H. Tsang (adjunct professor, SFU's School of Interactive Arts and Technology)
Front row: Justin Wong (associate communications assistant, SFU University Communications), Keith Fong (associate director, SFU IT Services), Doug Corkery (development technologist and capital asset planner, SFU Facility Services)