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.”

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  • Hi everyone,

    Just want to clarify a few things.

    As the article states, we will be receiving quotes from development companies for the next few months. We have already been in contact with some of the best design firms in the world (check out two of my favorites, located right here in Texas / The decision of which developer we end up using is in the hands of UH Administration.

    The app can and should be opened up for learning opportunities to the CompSci program once it is completed.

    The app serves as the most cost-effective platform to alleviate some of our biggest problems on campus (safety, parking, consolidation of student portals, etc). No matter how much we spend on the app, we will never (not even close) spend as much as say a new parking garage, or hiring 5 more security guards, or a new stadium, etc.

    I hope this clarifies some of the questions that are floating around – feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any other questions!

    • "The app can and should be opened up for learning opportunities to the CompSci program once it is completed."

      Meaning suddenly student-made copy-and-pasted identical apps appear with only the variable names changed?

    • I don't support the idea of an all-in-one app. Nobody puts all their services in one app. That's just poor design. See Amazon, Google, Apple.

      Why not have a UH app store like asd is hinting at? Just as much effort, Computer Science students can pitch in before, after, and during completion, and we can get some revenue from it.

    • Did you even read bottle rocket apps "about" page?

      "We focus on mission-critical, premium applications… We’re not a good fit for less critical projects that need to be done quickly and where low-cost is more important than quality."

      I've been reading around and $60,000 isn't going to buy a premium application. It would be mid-level at best. I'd say that a university app isn't mission-critical either. Last week you said in the daily cougar, "The first version of the app is planned to be ready for student use in the spring." That's a pretty quick turnaround from a company that warns against rushing things and trying to do them on the cheap.

      Bottlerocket seems like a poor fit for our needs. Who is really going to do the app?

  • I get that they are trying to make some things better, but directions from class to class? Sorry but if you aren't smart enough to read the maps maybe you shouldn't be in college. Also, that money could go to creating opportunities for students. I say let the students develope the app. Isn't that why they are going to school. An idea that has students excited to better themselves and the SGA just throws it out? What's next? Get a 3rd party to do the Daily Coug?

    • Outsource the Daily Cougar? That's a great idea! Maybe then we could get some investigation before any reporting is done. Wouldn't that be amazing if our paper actually reported on events BEFORE they happen?

      Like this current app debacle. Imagine if the Daily Cougar had told students what was on the agenda for the student government, BEFORE the student government made their decision. Maybe then we would have had a good honest debate on the merits of a student developed app vs. a professionally developed app. Instead, we get an article based on the outrage over a poorly researched decision by the SGA. This second article was practically written for the Daily Cougar by the comments section over that previous article.

      Now, the SGA might have made the right decision. A professionally developed app will probably be a lot more polished than a student app. But we had no chance to debate this decision prior to the event taking place because our media outlet failed to keep students abreast of what was happening on campus.

      So replacing our student newsroom with professionals sounds like a good idea! Where can I go to promote this improvement for our campus?

      • Guano07 / All,

        Campus walking directions is simply 1 function that could be included in the app: more important potential features include 2 way communication with UHPD in case of on-campus emergencies, complete consolidation and integration of our student portals, parking assistance, professor/class ratings, academic advising assistance, etc… it is an open ended project in which every year we can add new features for our students.

        It also has a huge potential for Student Organization collaboration. We have already contacted groups like SPB, CoogRadio, DailyCougar, so we can set up meetings and completely understand their best interests before we begin development of the app.

        This mobile app can be a giant step forward for our Tier 1 campus! It's time for this University to embrace technology and leverage it to our benefit – Let me know if you guys have any other thoughts. Also, feel free to take our student survey (on the SGA FB page) if you want to voice your opinion about the app directly to SGA and feel free to join us at our next SGA meeting, this Wednesday at 7:30pm in the Cougar Den, I'll be talking about it during my portion of the meeting.

        Feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have questions!



  • For those of you who are tech savvy like I am and have the current UH app which was develop by our very own UH students, who were recognize by the 46th Administration for creating the app, please touch the UH Icon located at the bottom of the app. As you will see, this leads to the web app that SGA is proposing be created and modified by the third party. I still believe that changing the coding of the current app to modify any changes this administration wants with no cost at all is a better solution and the best for our students. If any of you watch, you will see that a eight year old kid can develop an app, have his parents pay $100 to get it on the app market, charge nothing, but then make any modifications and come out with an update is a lot better and still no cost.

    Also there is not much more difference between what we already have and the proposed app. just more links to other areas of campus. But that is it. Now the $60,000 should then be spent on scholarships to help students who are in financial trouble or to other projects which is better for our campus and used toward educational use. Just an observation, but I thought students came to the University of Houston to get an education and learn how to work in the real world.

    • SenSyptacular / All,

      There seems to be some confusion, SGA is not developing a web app – UH already has one, feel free to check it out at

      We have partnered with University Relations to develop a more functional mobile app. University Relations role is to provide us with their own research and feedback over their web app so we can step into the development process with a beta test already under our belt AND a University Partner to ensure the continuation of the project – will continue to exist for those who are accessing UH's website via mobile device.

      SGA understands that $59k is a lot of money, we're all students and pay the same fee everybody else does. When considering the alternative solutions to our current on-campus problems (building more parking garages, hiring more security staff, new stadiums, etc) a functional mobile app is by far the most cost-effective.

      During our teleconferences with developers we have made it very clear that we want the app so be a vital tool for our students, something we have to use every day. SGA is committed to delivering a product that clearly benefits the student body.

      Please join us tomorrow at 7:30 at the SGA senate meeting we can discuss it in person if you'd like!



  • I fully support the decision to go with an outside company. I have seen very little come out of the computer science department that would call attractive or usable. The current UH Navigate app is one I actually show people as an example of poor UX/UI design (it's buggy, ugly, and breaks some of Apple's human interface guidelines). If they want to develop the app, the seriously need to step up their game and learn to work with a good designer and a good systems analyst. And a good designer doesn't just mean someone who can make things pretty – they need to have a solid understanding of interface design and how it relates to an effective user experience. I hope I can be at the SGA meeting tomorrow to express my support for going with an outside company, and I hope others understand why it's important to use a development team that isn't just a bunch of coders.

  • While I understand the feeling of betrayal by not going with UH student coders, we all have to understand that an outside developer will offer a more polished app and more consistency in the long run. If student developed it would have to be on a voluntary basis. Who is going to voluntarily put the time into keeping the app up to date a year from now… voluntarily? We've already been through this with the current app. A good outside developer team will do this. Their talents should already be proven with past apps put out by their company. So as long as UH negotiates a proper contract with the outside developer it will be better for all of us many years down the road.

  • there is no need for app intact. google maps allowing indoor mapping… not only campus but you can easily upload floor plans of buildings too.

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