In the early days of summer 2012, I learned I would be teaching a third year design course known as CIS3750 – Systems Design and Analysis in Application. This would be the first time that I’d be teaching the course, so I was obviously nervous1. The only thing I knew for sure was that the students would be required to work in groups and on a common project; learning the process of taking an idea to a full-blown usable program. As an example, previous years saw the students tasked with developing a game based on the novel Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian.
Around the same time, I had begun searching for an unrelated project with my friend and colleague Danny Williamson. We were looking to identify something we could do in and for the community – a demonstration that individuals could work towards improving the lives of others if they just decided to move past idea to action.
Danny and I had many meetings with many individuals in the community. Government officials, community leaders, concerned citizens – we met with anyone and everyone we could to find a project we felt fit our needs and our skill sets. On June 12th we were introduced to Linda Hawkins, Anne Bergin, and Erin Nelson of the University of Guelph‘s Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship/Research Shop. Following a very lively hour-long meeting, Danny and I had our project. Even better, the CIS3750 class had their project as well.
The goal: develop an open-source system that would allow users to access in real-time the needs of the local food security providers; to facilitate a quantitative and qualitative improvement in the types of food donated; and to provide information to the public about food security in Guelph. The project was dubbed Farm To Fork.
The next several months saw more meetings, project scoping, and brainstorming of ideas. Many hours were spent drafting assignments and developing classroom materials that would align with the project, while covering all of the necessary curriculum objectives.
Despite all preparations, when I met my class in September I had no idea how they would react. While the content of the course hadn’t changed, the outcomes had in some way. Instead of developing a game for me, the students would be tasked with developing a functional open-source project for the local community. They’d have a real client. They’d have real deliverables.
To say that the class of 30 embraced the project would be an understatement. Over the course of 12 weeks, the students applied their knowledge to building prototypes of the Farm To Fork website. It wasn’t always easy, and it often required long discussions and debates, but after 12 weeks of work, assignments, quizzes, and lab demos, they had developed two prototypes. The community leaders involved in the project were impressed, and I couldn’t help but be proud of them and what they had accomplished.
This semester, two students from the CIS3750 class (Lee-Jay Cluskey Belanger and Benjamin – Beni – Katznelson) are continuing to develop the website as part of their CIS4900 senior undergraduate project. The website will be released for testing over the summer, with a final launch date set for September of this year.
If you’re interested in keeping up to date with this project, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or follow the blog. You can access the Twitter feed and Facebook page by clicking on one of the Farm To Fork icons in the righthand panel. You can flip over to the Farm To Fork blog by clicking here.
In the coming weeks and months I’ll be posting here about the Farm To Fork project from the point of view of Community Engaged Scholarship in the Classroom. Specific updates about the website itself will be posted on the Farm To Fork blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
1 As I am with any course I’m teaching for the first time.