Nine applications in a year; thousands of downloads from all over the world; one dedicated UMW professor.
Jennifer Polack-Wahl, professor of computer science, leads a small group of student researchers who in just 12 months is making a sizeable impact in elementary schools in the Commonwealth and across the nation.
Polack-Wahl and the team, known as S.M.A.R.T. (Student Made Applications and Researching Technology), has created applications, or “apps,” for iPads, iPhones and iTouches specifically geared toward addressing Virginia SOL math and literacy requirements for elementary school students. This semester, the group released an app that focuses on the history of ancient Egypt. Apps on money and life science are in the works. Polack-Wahl is collaborating with the Charlottesville, Va., school district, which is using the apps, to make sure the content and format are effective. And with Apple technologymaking its way into elementary school classrooms, the S.M.A.R.T. team is adding a research component to its work.
“We are getting data to prove the technology works,” she said, since schools may be more likely to receive funding for apps with research that supports their effectiveness. “We have to show it is worth the investment.”
Polack-Wahl set up the student research program to emulate independent studies she has seen at the master’s and doctoral levels.
This semester, six students meet one or two days a week to research and develop the apps. Her goal is to give them the opportunity to do higher level work and have a hand in projects they might not normally undertake.
“It’s like a mini Ph.D. program,” she said.