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Inventing the [Think Tank] Wheel

Navigating one’s way through the labyrinth that is a college’s course catalogue can be a daunting pot hole on the road to graduation. The process would be much easier if only there were a graphic interface designed to help prospective and current students see all of their options.

This thought recently passed through the minds of Steven Beyerlein and Edwin Odom, professors of mechanical engineering, when they approached Bruce Bolden, professor of computer science engineering, and a group of four computer science students to tackle the problem as their senior project. Fast forward a semester, the group is constantly testing a graphical, touch-screen interface designed to help prospective students explore the opportunities in the University of Idaho’s College of Engineering.

“The problem is we have a lot of information to be showing,” says Cody Miller, one of the seniors on the team. “We try to make that not overloading. We try to make it just the right amount of information for people who are trying to look at it, and that’s difficult.”

“One of the goals is to try to make it fun to explore around and see what the College of Engineering has to offer,” adds Ben Adler. “We want to get people interested – to want to come to school here.”

According to another member, Chris Smith, the biggest challenge is designing a graphical interface that is easy to use, easy to understand and conveys all of the information. The answer they came up with is a wheel consisting of concentric circles. The outer layer has the most basic classes, rising in level and pre-requirements as one moves towards the center.

Advising kioskTouching a section of the wheel containing a class brings up a description as well as highlighting other sections of the wheel that are required to take the course. By exploring the wheel, students learn what classes are out there to take and which classes they must complete first to take them.

Though future students will benefit from the team’s hard work, the biggest beneficiaries may be the team members themselves.

“We can put this on our resume as something we’ve actually completed,” says Miguel Ramirez. “Rather than just saying, ‘I’ve had classes for that.’ There is something we can point to that has actually been implemented at the University of Idaho.”

Team Members:

  • Ben Adler
  • Miguel Ramirez
  • Chris Smith
  • Cody Miller
  • "One of the goals is to try to make it fun to explore around and see what the College of Engineering has to offer.”