You've probably heard many a technical expert argue that computing power, and computational thinking, can be harnessed to solve many of the world's toughest, stickiest problems. It turns out the federal government agrees, and is not only talking the talk but walking the walk as well.
Challenge.gov is a clearinghouse of sorts of challenging problems to be solved. Government organizations come up with a problem they'd like to solve and post it to the site. Individuals, teams, and organizations compete to come up with solutions to the problem and submit them to the site. The best submissions get cash prizes, the feel-good experience of computing for social good, and the joy of knowing their solution will be put to use.
The challenges span a wide range of formats, from "make a video" to "design a mobile app". Many of the challenges involve working with and synthesizing data from publicly-available databases. The challenges we will focus on---data visualization, web site development, and/or app development---also require marrying technical skills with some sort of domain knowledge (from energy utilization to the wage gap to the needs of the homeless), a skill computer scientists increasingly need out in the real world.
To get the full experience out of this project, this team will actually compete in an existing challenge. We will select the challenge in September from the available challenges. To simplify things a bit, we'll restrict the challenges under consideration to those requiring a website or a standalone, non-mobile application.
If you've ever wondered whether you could really make a difference as "just a techie", or whether computer science is really socially relevant, this project is for you!
In this project, you will produce a fully-functioning application or website (referred to as "app" for simplicity) that integrates and presents publicly-available data from a variety of sources in a way that answers the selected challenge and is useful to the general public. You will submit your app to the challenge via the challenge.org site. Since challenges tend to be on the scale of 3-4 months, after submitting your code to the challenge you will spend the remaining project time refining your application.
Once a challenge has been identified in September, the project will consist of the following pieces:
The nature of the exact challenge will dictate the reference list for this project, and you will work with a reference librarian in early fall term to identify proper resources. In the meantime, here are some resources that will be useful in thinking about designing programs for a more general audience and in utilizing and visualizing large datasets:
(I will have copies of these books in my office.)