The University of Houston is a long way from Silicon Valley, but students have been hard at work learning how to use technology as a tool to benefit the community. Through the initiative Data Analytics in Student Hands (DASH), students are developing community-enhancing apps for mobile devices and computers. The first DASH effort is an app designed to help members of the Cougar community and campus visitors learn more about UH’s robust public art collection.
Users can tour the campus with ARTour guiding them from one piece of art to the other. With the app open, users can tap a compass button on the upper right side of their devices’ screens to enter augmented reality (AR) mode. Devices can then be aimed in different directions on campus and used as a viewer. When an artwork is near the app will flag the work and offer its title. Users can then tap the flag to gain additional information on the work of art. In AR mode, the user also has access to a range button (on the upper left hand corner of the screen) that shows the distance of other artworks from his or her position. A radar button (on the lower left side of the screen) shows the directions to other works.
UH ARTour also features a map detailing the location of campus sculptures and installations.
The app was developed by DASH students under the direction of Honors College professor Dan Price and in collaboration with Michael Guidry, curator of UH’s Public Art Collection. It is just one of the DASH projects aimed at using technology to connect with the community.
The goal, said Price, is to teach students how data can effectively be positioned as a community engagement tool.
“Students are the right kind of people to bring fresh, exciting energy to new forms of community engagement,” he said. “The idea is that students don’t become passive in the face of technology and learn to deliver data in innovative ways.”
Other DASH projects in development include a Community Health Workers app, which allows healthcare professionals to locate classes and track continuing education units. Another project is tied to the student organization Honors in Community Health, which will collect data on health issues in the Third Ward.
The DASH students who contributed to the UH ARTour app include Suneil Tandon, Carl Stephen, Timothy Brown, Vu Nguyen, Hejal Soni, Binh Tran, Dan Vo and Isme Correa. DASH has been supported by several individuals and foundations and conducts summer activities as part of UH’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.
“For the students, it’s a transformative approach to education,” Price said. “They came into this project with the desire to create something that will serve Houstonians. Because of that, these students learn more than the technical aspects of developing an app. They are discovering how their talents can be applied to tools that can enhance their communities.”