In an effort to look at continuous improvement in offering students hands on, real-world experience in the classroom, the SITC faculty brainstormed a way to better integrate the experience of the freshman ITC 110 class (Introduction to Information, Technology, and Computing) with teaching upperclassmen how to manage and mentor in a group setting. They had success in the previous ITC 110 class with upperclassmen volunteering to help manage the freshmen app groups. The goal for the fall 2017 class was to continue the mentoring experience but to bring in more upperclassmen to manage the projects and give not only the freshmen helpful and practical advice but to develop the management skills of the older students.
Students share their creativity during the App Showcase.
They looked to a class called IT 460 (Managing Technical Projects), a senior capstone course in which students learn organization and leadership techniques and are given an individual management assignment. This seemed like the perfect solution so the faculty decided to move forward with the idea of using these students to mentor and manage the freshmen projects.
Mid semester app projects were proposed by the students within the ITC 110 class and teams were created. Each team consisted of two or three managers and six ITC 110 students (two Computer Science majors, two DET majors and two IS/IT majors). Every Tuesday, the ITC 110 class would begin with a visit from the project managers to their respective group where they would spend about 15 minutes to talk about progress of the app, goals for the week, and to answer any questions their ITC 110 team had about the process. At the end of the semester, it was each team’s turn to present their app at the ITC 110 App Showcase. Click on the link below to enjoy a short video clip of Dr. Ray Pettit interviewing student app developers and managers, talking about what they learned in this unique process.
ITC 110 App Showcase
Global Game Jam is a 48 hour game development challenge that happens all around the world during the last weekend of January (January 26-28, 2018). The GGJ is a unique opportunity where students are challenged to do things they might normally not be doing in the classroom. As the GGJ website states, “Think of it as a hackathon focused on game development”. Students are learning skills that are pushing them to be their best and fulfill the vision for the game as well as challenging their time management and work ethic. The goal is to create a prototype of a game that the students can continue working on and improving after the two day event is over. Many of the games created in the previous Global Game Jam events have gone on to become fully realized games.
Global Game Jam was created to help people of all backgrounds around the globe come together to create a video game or non-digital game, like a board game or card game. The event also helps bolster the creativity and artistic expression in the gaming industry with more ideas and prototypes not yet introduced. Despite having only 48 hours to create and collaborate, this brief amount of time is meant to assist students in creative thinking and problem solving skills, ultimately resulting in what may be small but innovative and experimental games.
DET Professors Rich Tanner and Brian Burton are an invaluable resource to students learning gaming development.
This is ACU’s 8th year to participate in the GGJ event. The concept for this event is simple – on Friday evening participants gather at approved Jam sites around the globe and are welcomed with a brief introduction and information from the international coordinators. The theme, which has been kept a secret, is announced and then teams form, ideas are shared, and everyone works to try and create a prototype of their game, based on the theme, by Sunday afternoon. Last year, Global Game Jam had 700 locations in 95 countries where over 7000 games were created in one weekend!
DET students creating virtual reality experiences
Global Game Jam prides itself on helping to encourage new friendships through collaboration, as well as increasing confidence and opportunities within the gaming development community. The goal of GGJ is to stimulate teamwork with others and is not a competition.
This incredible learning experience is not limited to those in the technology department/major but is open to anyone who has interest in creating a game. Register for the Global Game Jam at https://globalgamejam.org/2016/jam-sites/abilene-christian-university.
Technology faculty continually look for ways to combine coursework with real world applications. For example, at the end of the semester of Scripting II (CS 115), students are tasked with creating a program that solves, or can be applied, to a real world problem. SITC students Matthew Middlebrook and Brighton Mica decided to create a program that could beat the game Minesweeper. Minesweeper is a single-player puzzle video game where the objective of the game is to clear a rectangular board containing hidden mines or bombs without detonating any of them. Players receive help from clues about the number of neighboring mines in each field.
As you can imagine, this was no easy task as they set out to beat a computer at a game that is difficult for most people to win. Middlebrook and Mica had some doubt at the beginning of their endeavor, due to the sheer amount of work involved and wondering if it could even be done in the scripting language. However, using the tools they hadlearned from Scripting such as lists to store the game board, complex functions, and if statements they were able to start planning out a program.
After making the decision to go forward with the Minesweeper program as their final project they each began to brainstorm on possible ways to accomplish this task. Both students came up with ideas on how to solve the problem in different ways, based on ways they thought the game could be beat. Mica’s solution was to try and find the location of the items (numbers, blank spaces, and bombs) on the board by using r
eference images. While the solution did work correctly and was very accurate, it turned out to be a very slow method. Middlebrook’s solution was to get the coordinates of the game window and use some math to try and figure out where the spaces on the board were located. It took a long time to compile and figure out the correct positioning of everything, but this method turned out to be the fastest. Even though this idea was much more prone to error, especially if the window moved or resized, the pair decided to go the route of the most efficient method. Because this was such a complex program, the students also had to teach themselves some things that had not yet been covered in classes, such as opening a program. Through this research they learned enough to be able to write a working code.
Mica and Middlebrook were able to write the program and win the game a majority of the time in around 2-3 seconds. Writing such a complex program was well beyond what was expected but the pair says they were inspired by the difficulty of the game and wanted to find a way to beat Minesweeper, achieving their goal and presenting an excellent final project for Scripting.
We’ve all heard about Disney magic. Lauren Mullen, a sophomore Digital Entertainment Technology major, got to experience that magic first hand when she participated in the Disney college program during the 2017 spring semester. The Disney College Program gives college students the opportunity to work in the Disney parks and resorts while participating in college coursework. Participants are given the chance to meet students from all over the world who have similar aspirations as well as learn the Disney principles of leadership and customer service skills that can only be learned through this unique experience. 44,000 people apply for the internships and only 4,000 applicants are accepted into the program.
At Disney, Lauren interacted with college students of all majors and with people from around the globe. “The opportunity that Disney gives people is incredible,” says Lauren. “Even if you are not interested in a career at Disney, it is impressive to have on your resume because it demonstrates the amount of work and ability you have.” She recommends other students to apply for the internship because it has the potential to shape your life and career in a dramatic way.
Lauren heard about Disney College Program when she was in middle school and it had been something that she had wanted to do since then. She went online to the Disney College Program website and signed up for an email list to get notifications about job opportunities. When she received an email about the semester program, Lauren almost immediately applied. After thirty minutes, she heard back from Disney and was asked to take a test about her knowledge of Disney and her priorities as a person and employee. After passing the test, she had a phone interview and was finally hired for a position at one of the restaurants in the Magic Kingdom.
Lauren’s average day in the Magic Kingdom can be described as very busy and very exciting. In the morning, she dressed in her costume and checked the Disney database to view her responsibilities, the time she worked, and how many people were expected in the park that day. She would leave from her home and drive twenty minutes to get to the park, where she caught a bus from the employee parking lot to Magic Kingdom. The bus dropped her off at the first floor of Magic Kingdom, which is actually underground because the park was built on the second floor. She would go to her locker, clock in, and check in with her boss. Her days ranged from eight to twelve hours. Lauren’s favorite days were the twelve hour days because she could watch the fireworks while shutting down the restaurant and, if she got off early, she could go into the park and play until it closed.
One of Lauren’s biggest takeaways from her time at Disney was learning the value of hard work. There were some days where she was filled with doubt about why she was there. She would remind herself that this was an opportunity to work for Disney and show them that she was a hard worker; that, when faced with obstacles, she could push through it and demonstrate her commitment. Lauren says that Disney was able to teach her how to make the “magic” for the most people. For example, one way Disney provides magical moments is by giving employees little things to give to their guests such as fast passes to a ride or food. Through simple acts like that, Lauren was able to spread joy anytime she worked.
The experience of working for Magic Kingdom was also beneficial because Lauren was able to see the inner workings of Disney: the behind-the-scenes on making magic happen. While there ,Lauren took classes on the history of Disney animation. Animation is a field that Lauren is very interested in and working there gave her the opportunity to ask questions and learn the Disney art of animation. Because of the heart and happiness that she showed on the job, Disney asked her to stay on longer to work for them. Though it was a tempting offer, Lauren said that she had to return to ACU. Overall, Disney taught her to have fun, enjoy her job and spread joy and magic to the people around her while equipping her with skills and experience to succeed in her future career. This internship with Disney is paving the path to Lauren’s future and giving her a headstart on achieving her dream job of being the first solo female director of a Disney movie. She is encouraged that because of her hard work, Disney has now taken notice of her. This Disney internship makes it more likely that she will have the opportunity to work for them in the future.
For anyone interested in applying for this amazing program, Lauren’s advice is “to just go for it.” Congratulations to Lauren for being one of the 4,000 chosen for this unique program. You can learn more about the Disney College Program here.
As the semester is coming to an end, the School of Information Technology and Computing wants to highlight some of our seniors that will be graduating in December. We asked Alicia Clark, an Information Technology major, Travis Cook, a Computer Science major, and Katey Bluel, a Digital Entertainment Technology major, a few questions reflecting on their time at ACU and specifically with us in SITC.
What degree are you finishing and what interests you about it?
- Katey: Digital Entertainment Technology. What drew me to this major was my love of being creative as well as using computers in the process and this major perfectly encompasses those two things.
- Travis: I am finishing a BS in Computer Science this December. I think an interesting aspect of CS is the ability to tackle problems in different ways; rarely are you bound to solve a programming problem in just one way. This allows you to be creative in your problem-solving.
Where are you headed after graduation?
- Katey: I am moving to Austin, Texas and will be working at an entry-level position at Stitch Fix. My hope is to eventually get into their advertising department so that I can get the word out about what they are doing.
- Travis: After graduation, I’m headed back home to Washington for Christmas then on to Scotland for vacation before moving to San Antonio to start work with USAA as a Creative Designer.
What was one of the most impactful things you did here?
- Katey: When I worked with Austin Graham to relaunch the DET Club it was just us meeting for our sophomore year and occasionally we would get other people, but we stuck with it. Seeing the group grow and grow each year is amazing.
- Alicia: I think the most impactful accomplishment are all of the different tasks that I completed as a student programmer for ACU’s IT department. Intangibly, my relationship with God was strongly impacted by my choice to come to ACU and the friends that I made here. The professors, fellow students, the marching band, best friends/roommates, and the wonderful girls in Alpha Kai Omega all helped me mature and grow closer to God in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.
What do you wish you had known before you came to college?
- Alicia: I wish I had known more about what the information technology degree path entails, and come to ACU with prior computer language knowledge because it was difficult to just jump right in and start swimming in a computer world that I knew nothing about. But now that I’m about to graduate, I feel like God planned that out perfectly because I couldn’t be where I am now if it was any different.
- Katey: I wish that I would have focused less on constantly and would have invested myself more into all the work and projects that I was doing with DET and the friends that I had made through the process.
What advice would you give to an incoming freshman?
- Katey: Just try. I was always scared to use new programs I knew nothing about because I was worried I was not going to be good at it, but of course, you are not great when you start but the more you work at it the better and better you get.
- Alicia: Getting good grades, networking, and preparing yourself for the real world after college is the main reason you’re coming to ACU, and you should never lose track of that. However, your relationship with God and the experience you have with the ACU community while you’re here is also important – so try not to let low grades ruin your life because, in the end, relationships are what matter. Yes, the grades and GPA might get you your first job after college, but after that, no one looks at them. The friendships that you make with your professors and fellow students, and your relationship with God, are just as important as having a 4.0 GPA, if not more important.
What was your favorite class while you were here?
- Travis: One of my favorite classes was HCI. I highly recommend every Technology major take the course. The course shows us how we can create software and systems to better people’s lives through human-centered design.
- Alicia: The Intro to ITC class was my first major class my first semester freshman year, and being required to make an app in 10 weeks with no prior knowledge was really difficult. It stretched me to my limits, I pulled more all-nighters in that semester than I have in the following semesters combined, and my grades in other classes suffered from it. But through it all, I made some of my best friends, created my first mobile app, and created memories that will last a lifetime. My first group project in college was also in that class, and it gave me invaluable content for interview questions. Overall, Intro to ITC was my favorite class because it’s what set my foundation in the Technology department, and made me realize that since I survived that class, I might actually be able to successfully work in an IT career.
What are you saddest to leave?
- Katey: All of my students in the classes I am a Teacher Assistant in, especially the DET 210 class, intro to Digital Entertainment. Every year we get more and more people that are really passionate about what they are doing and I wish I could see everything that they produce and what they do their time here.
- Alicia: I am saddest to leave the ACU community behind. The ACU IT department, professors, classmates/friends, and the beautiful ACU campus all mean so much to me; words cannot express how grateful I am that God blessed me with ACU. These communities have shaped me into a person with a stronger foundation of faith, a wealth of IT knowledge to build upon throughout my careers, and with better-grounded values and morals. It’s going to be difficult to leave it all behind, but the memories and friendships will last a lifetime.