Proposed app could use student input
The unveiling of Student Government Association’s plan to spend $59,125 of student fees to an outside company to develop a smartphone app for the University has left some computer science students wondering why.
The question stems from the fact that one of the app’s features used to sell the idea to the Student Fees Advisory Committee was its ability to help students find their way around campus, giving them directions to and from different buildings. Why is this an issue? Because that app already exists.
UH Navigate is an app that was developed by five computer science students as an assignment for their Ubiquitous Computing course in December of 2010. It was the continuation of a project created by four other students, UH Guide, created in March of 2010. UH Guide earned those four students a Student Service Award under a resolution introduced by current SGA Speaker of the Senate Reyes Ramirez.
“I’m sure they could find people (in the department) who are willing to do it (develop the app)… without spending $60,000,” said Mohammed Alshair, team leader of the group that developed UH Navigate.
SGA Director of Finances Turner Harris said SGA did not want to use students to develop the app because a third party developer would have more time to devote to creating it.
“It’s a speed issue and a turn around issue,” he said. “If you go with a third party developer… they’re not just coders; they’re designers. It’s not something that can be matched.”
Harris said SGA would like to use computer science students in the future, however.
“Just because we developed the app with a third party doesn’t mean we can’t use them later on,” he said.
Alshair said the main problem his group came across with UH Navigator was they couldn’t get support from the University. The app was supposed to be published when in was created in December, but never was because the teaching assistant didn’t get around to it even though the department has a subscription, costing $100 per year, to publish as many apps as they want.
With the help of SGA, however, Alshair said the app could be updated and maintained by students. This way the students developing the app could spend more time developing it instead of trying to work their way through campus bureaucracy. They could then include the proposed features the new app would have, without spending $59,125 or using an outside company. He said if student fees are being used, they should be spent on the University.
“If that’s the case, they could give it (the $59,125) to the department or the students,” he said. “But for a lot of students the project and experience itself would be enough motivation.”
SFAC Chair John Evans said SGA was given the $59,125 to make sure enough money was allocated for the app.
“The rest of the money should return to the (fiscal year 2013) ledger,” he said.
Evans, who is a computer science major, said he knows students at this University are capable of contributing to the app, and SFAC advised SGA to incorporate students in its plans.
Whenever an organization receives this amount of student to pay to a third party, according to Evans, it goes through a bidding process, meaning SGA does not get to choose which company develops the app.
Harris said SGA is still in talks with different developers and will continue the search until SFAC’s recommendations are approved and fees are distributed next semester.
SFAC’s recommendations must first be approved by Vice President for Student Affairs Richard Walker, followed by President Renu Khator and the Board of Regents.
Alshair said if SGA and computer science students could work together with the development, they could create an app better than one an outside company could produce.
“Who better to make it (the app) than the people who live in (the University)?” Alshair said. “You don’t want a duplicate — you want to create something unique.”