When students think of studying engineering in college, problem sets, heavy textbooks and challenging midterms all come to mind.
During the fall semester, Boston University’s Assistant Professor Ayse Coskun (ECE) and Associate Professor Ari Trachtenberg (ECE) took a different approach to teaching by giving students a chance to design mobile games for their final projects.
At the end of their Introduction to Software Engineering course (EC327), Coskun and Trachtenberg asked students to design a marketable Android app.
“Students had to learn how to interface different software components, work in teams – which is often the case in the real world – and think about important aspects of their apps like the target audience, robustness and user interface,” said Coskun.
“One of the goals of this project was to make students think about how their application will actually be used, as use-considerations often have a significant influence on real engineering design decisions,” said Trachtenberg.
As part of the assignment, John Moore (ECE ’15) and his teammates designed an app based off of one of the earliest arcade games, Pong.
“This project really showed us how to apply the programming knowledge we’d already had,” he said. “It was great because we had a chance to build something from scratch.”
Students had about a month to complete the projects before in-class demonstrations. They worked in teams of four or five people.
Moore said that one of his favorite parts of the project was seeing the interesting ways his teammates would tackle a programming problem – ideas that were often different from his own.
“With this project, you really learned how to work on a team,” he said. “Group members couldn’t improve the app unless they understood how it was working so that forced us to communicate with each other constantly.”
Like Moore, the majority of students designed games for their final projects but some groups took a different approach. Patrick Crawford (ECE ’15) and his teammates created MorSMS, an app that converts text messages into Morse coded vibrations.
“I had a blast working on it,” he said. “Finding the best ways to create the app, for user interface as well as efficiency, is definitely an important skill we took away from this.”
These final projects were possible, in part, because of funding from the Kern Family Foundation. As a Kern Faculty Fellow, Trachtenberg is responsible for helping develop an entrepreneurial mindset among engineering students. Overall, he and Coskun were very pleased with their first results.
“We were impressed by the quality and functionality of the projects as well as the amount of creativity students put into them,” said Trachtenberg.
Their students also gained some insight into what working as an engineer might be like one day. Crawford said, “This was my first time in mobile development, and though it can be time-consuming and difficult to learn something as new as this, it’s well worth it.”
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)