As a result of the rise of smartphones, tablets, WiFi connectivity, and other advances in mobile computing and communication, the field of mobile web applications has become one of huge growth and interest. For NYU’s student developers, however, writing code is not always the most challenging part; it is getting access to the large amount of data that a successful app requires.
NYU is working to make some data available to student developers to encourage innovation. New York-based STARC (the Student Technology and Research Committee, the IT working group of the NYU Student Senators Council now chaired by Jules O’Conner, along with Vice Chair Michael Hengerer) and NYU Abu Dhabi’s Research and Development Committee are two student groups working with the University on this endeavor.
As part of their effort to create student-focused applications, the two committees sponsored the Create a Better NYU Hackathon in December 2013. During this event, a number of University departments, including the NYU Libraries, NYU Housing, Dining, Athletics, and Public Safety, shared some of their datasets with participants. The datasets provided for the Create a Better NYU Hackathon were also made available to developers at the Hack NYU Hackathon held at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering in May 2014. Among the apps created by hackathon developers were:
NYU Clubs, which lets club leaders keep track of membership and scheduling.
NYU SafeWalk, which displays reported crime around the NYU area and allows users to map a route to dorms based on this information.
BobStreet, which locates books by title in Bobst Library, and then provides a map to find them.
Solutions to NYU-Unique Problems
“By opening data to students we can see them come up with maps, models, and visualizations that can help us perceive NYU in a different way and interact with the institution,” Research and Development Committee founder Juan Felipe Beltran said.
Getting the University to share the type of data that led to these apps on a more regular basis is a priority for both committees. NYU understands the power of data and supports the innovation of students. Last spring, the University worked with STARC on a successful pilot to identify data appropriate for sharing, and a process for using it. STARC Chair Griffin Dooling said that STARC is working on a developer program with a system for data exchange between the University and students. “What we’re trying to do is create an ecosystem in which students can develop solutions to problems they face,” he said. “We have a fantastic student body engaged in computer science. If we give them tools to build their own solutions, from a student life perspective, we can make an impact.”
The committees have already had some student-created solutions implemented. On www.nyuapps.com, a site sponsored by the committees, students, faculty, and staff can access NYU Bus Tracker. The app was developed by undergrad Mike Jaoudi and shows real-time schedules for NYU bus arrivals.
Policies Protect Student Privacy
Providing student developers with data is more than a matter of the administration just granting access. A number of policies protect student privacy, and a number of laws dictate the way data can be transferred. Norma K.S. Kenigsberg, Program Director, IT Policy Development and Compliance for the Office of the Vice President, Information Technology & CITO explained how her department educates students about data laws.
“Students are subject to the same policies and other rules that govern data access at NYU as we all are,” Kenigsberg said. “These include NYU policies and rules, federal and state laws, and those regulations that affect data transfers between and among NYU’s global locations. Some of these deal with copyright and intellectual property, education records, health and financial information, and personally identified and identifiable information.”
She continued, “Data access limitations are not meant to stifle ideas and innovations, but rather to provide a safe environment within which to encourage creativity. Increasingly, for their hackathons and for other events and activities, NYU is working with students to provide them with as much data access as possible, while emphasizing the necessity for privacy.”
Beltran and Dooling both understand the limitations, and both seem optimistic about the University’s support of innovation and data management.
“We’ve gotten a lot of strong support from the administration. The more we talk about it, the more access we get,” Beltran said.