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Computer Science Senior Capstone Class Builds SteppedAway Software

For an institution like the University of West Georgia where teaching is held in high regard, frequent face-to-face meetings between students and professors is encouraged. This is often managed through the posting of fixed office hours… but there are many times when extenuating circumstances cause this time honored system to fail with the result being frustration for both student and professor.

The Office Hour Dilemma
Whether it’s traffic, a sick child, an unscheduled department meeting or simply walking down the hall to pick up a print there are times when a student will find a professor’s office door closed during office hours. A simple tour of professor’s offices will reveal a number of creative approaches to solving this problem but they all have their faults.

The Project
To address this problem, sticky notes and small white boards are frequently pressed into service. While they allow the professor to leave a message concerning his absence, there is no way to know if “I’ll be back in an hour” means they will return in 5 minutes or 55 minutes… not to mention that an hour frequently turns into two. Additionally, if a professor just needs to “run down the hall for a minute” the overhead of creating and leaving a note to that effect frequently outweighs its value causing it to be left undone. Finally, if stuck in traffic or delayed for some other reason, the only way to leave such a note is to find someone that is currently in their office, interrupt them and ask them to leave a note on your door.

This is the problem presented to the Computer Science Department’s Senior Capstone class by Dr. Jim Rowan in the Spring of 2006. The Capstone class is intended to bring many of the concepts taught in Computer Science to bear on a fairly large, not necessarily well-specified problem. The students work as a project team, define the problem, design a solution, break the solution into addressable parts, assign people to those parts, build the parts, integrate those parts into a whole, test the result and then produce a unified, deployable software product.

SteppedAway Installation
The Capstone class’s final product, called SteppedAway is currently in use and installed in Dr. Rowan’s office door in the TLC. It has two modes, “The Dr. is IN” when the professor is in the office and the door is open and “The Dr. is OUT” when the professor has stepped away from the office. In a manner similar to sticky notes, when SteppedAway is in “The Dr. is IN” mode and the door is open, a collection of possible stepped away messages are shown.

On Leaving the Office
This way, when leaving the office, the professor touches the message he wants to leave while closing the door. This puts SteppedAway in “The Dr. is OUT” mode where a picture is displayed along with the selected message and an invitation to leave a message. Notice that the SteppedAway message is time-stamped to let the viewer know a bit more about the conditions under which this note is found.

Here, the door is open

Selecting an appropriate message as the door is closed...

Here the door is closed

...results in that message being shown on the closed door.

Change the Message from a Computer or a Cell Phone!

Now, suppose that on the next day the professor is either stuck in traffic or must take care of some problem that will make him late to his regularly posted office hours<. From any Internet connected computer or from a cell phone, a message can be sent to an email account and the text of that message will replace the message shown in the cloud. Instead of "Gone for the day" the cloud might say "I'm stuck in traffic, I'll be there at 10:30"

To see how a student might use SteppedAway to leave a message, click below and go to:
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