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The Optimist for the Ipad: Our first iPad app

Posted by Dr. Burton on April 11, 2010 in iPad |

Recently my students and I finished our first iPad app.  It was quite an accomplishment to get it done on time, but we did it.

We created an application for the University newspaper The Optimist.  It was an interdepartmental effort involving Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), Art & Design, and my students who were from the iSchool (Computer Science, Information Technology, and Information Systems).

A little history…
The JMC dept. has been publishing a web version of the newspaper for approximately five years.  Before the 2009-10 academic year began last August, JMC, working with faculty from the Art & Design department made the decision to transition the proprietary system that they had been using to WordPress.  While this provided an easy means to keep the website up-to-date, effectively making each news story a blog posting, it did create other challenges for the iPad project.

At first, we intended to pull the information from the WordPress database structure in an XML format and then to build the pages inside the application.  When I realized that there was no possible way that
neither I nor my students could maintain all of the changes that might be requested in the future and still be able to teach my courses, I began to look for other options.

Another consideration in selecting the method of publication that we did was the needs of the JMC department.  This new application had to utilize existing stories and publication methods.  As any journalism department will tell you, putting out a regular newspaper is a challenge in and of itself.  To make the process more complicated by adding additional demands on the students and faculty to be able to publish in a new format was not a possibility.

The Optimist showing navigation system

The Optimist navigation system

We made the decision to utilize an alternative WordPress theme that would be pulled into the iPad application.   JMC is able to maintain the theme, leaving my students and I able to focus more on the programming and less on the final appearance of the page.  Our addition to what WordPress provides is a navigation system that simplifies moving through the paper, adds bookmarks, history, and the ability to view various types of media such as photos and film shorts.

Credit where credit is due…
Mike Wiggins and his Art & Design students contributed wonderful mock-ups of what each page should look like when it was loaded into the app.

JMC’s Drs. Kenneth Pybus and Susan Lewis provided direction and support what was needed in the application, features that should be included, and teaching their students to adapt to this new method of publishing

My iSchool students (Randy Beaird, Morgan Davis, Brittany Kight, Seth Poplaski, Richard “Rich” Tanner, and Douglas Timmons) did a great job of creating an application that was based upon a moving target. Rich Tanner and Randy Beaird were the programming leads, both of them putting in over 120 hours each during the final two weeks of the project.  Also, Scott Kilmer from the university marketing department was of great help.  He went out of his way to help simplify the project and coordinate the theme building so that everyone else could stay focused on their portion of the project.

I do want to make sure that everyone understands that this was all done outside of our regular duties as faculty.  None of the faculty received release time, a stipend, or extra compensation.  Students worked on the project as part of a class project.  What made this project special was that everyone (faculty and students alike)  were committed to doing a great job.  Everyone understood that their names were attached to this project; they took responsibility for it and did a great job.  We all considered this an academic exercise with our students benefiting the most.  I have seen some blogs and comments stating that it was done for publicity sake.  I can assure you, that was not the case.

If you have any questions about the app or developing for the iPad, please let me know!  If you’re looking for iPad/iPhone developers, let me know, I have got some great ones that will soon be graduating!

One last note, if you are interested in a similar project for your newspaper or blog, let me know, I’m sure we can work something out!

The app is now available on the iTunes store (http://bit.ly/iPadapp).

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