Have App, Will Travel

A  mobile application developed at Ball State allows college classes to compile the equivalent of digital “textbooks” about their field trips and lets individual travelers create detailed vacation journals. It also addresses a key area of developmental need for many college-age students: cultivating a sense of geographical and spatial awareness.  

The app -  known as Traveler - is the product of a collaboration between Ball State’s Information Technology Services and College of Architecture and Planning.   

Traveler, which has been developed for tablet computers and smartphones running Android, uses GPS technology and Google Maps to keep track of a user’s route and features a number of embedded programs that can be used to chronicle a trip. A user can easily take photos, record audio or video clips, jot notes, or use a stylus to sketch a building or landscape. The app keeps track of where each of those actions takes place and drops a marker to pinpoint them on a map.  

“At the end of the day, you can look back and retrace everywhere you went and see where you took photos or made a sketch or took notes,” says Kyle Parker, senior development group leader for Ball State’s IT Services.  

Use for Academics or Vacation  

Two versions of the app have been developed: one for use by college classes, which can tie into a university’s computer system for easy sharing and archiving, and the other for individual users who might want to keep track of a vacation trip.  

Have App Will Travel

The individual version is available, free of charge, through the Google Play store for Android devices, where it recently was featured as a “staff pick.”  

Parker developed Traveler in cooperation with Lohren Deeg, an assistant professor of urban planning whose environmental design students helped test early versions of the app, and Valerie Morris, associate director of enterprise user relations.  

A class of Ball State architecture and landscape architecture students gave the app another shakedown during World Tour, a trip that covered 29 countries in 15 weeks.  

Deeg says experience with those classes confirms that the app meets a number of academic needs and is especially helpful for students trying to improve geographic and spatial awareness — developmental areas where students younger than 24 typically struggle.  

“When we’re done for the day, this app allows us to review our journey in an environment that collects every piece of media that a student created,” he says. ‘It shows them where it was created and enhances their ability to understand where they performed or recorded this material and how those locations relate to each other.”  

Instructors can use the app to collect the material created by every student in a class and compile a comprehensive record that can be saved indefinitely.  

“You have, in effect, a digital textbook of your field trip that is very rich in material that you and your students can refer to over and over,” says Deeg.  

Versatility  

Have App Will TravelAlthough the app was originally conceived with design-related classes in mind, Parker says, it would be useful in history, science, and an array of other subject areas, too.  

He and Deeg have written a paper about Traveler and its educational uses, which they have presented at a variety of academic and technology conferences. Going forward, they hope to interest other universities in using, testing, and refining Traveler even further.  

They also are experimenting with different devices. The first version was written for a tablet computer because it included a stylus, needed for the sketch program, but they now are experimenting with smartphones, smaller tablets, and even smart cameras.  

Regardless of the specific device used, Traveler is an excellent example of where higher education is heading, says Michel Mounayar, associate dean of the College of Architecture and Planning.  

“Students will use these devices for everything: their textbooks, their writing, their research,” he says. “And when they travel, instead of carting around a lot of equipment, they’ll grab their tablet and have everything they need.”

ParkerSPIF180tight

“Having students test the app on actual trips was critical. I can develop in my office and think about what it should be, but that may be completely different from how people actually use it. I made a lot of improvements based on our students’ experience.”

— Kyle Parker, senior development group leader for IT Services.