TASCHA Research Seminar, Fall 2010

Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) research seminars offer students an opportunity to gain practical research experience with one of our many projects investigating the design, use, and impact of information and communication technologies in communities facing social and economic challenges.

The Fall 2010 section (INFX598g/h) focuses on the Global Impact Study of Public Access to Information & Communication Technologies, a five-year, $7.2-million international research project sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries initiative and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The goal of the study is to generate evidence about the scale, character, and impacts of public access to information and communication technologies. Looking at libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés, the study investigates impact in a number of areas, including communication and leisure, culture and language, education, employment and income, governance, and health.

This course will bring students together to help with the development of a web application and database of an inventory of public access ICT venues in Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Lithuania, and the Philippines. The inventory is an activity within the study and has collected location, classification, and other descriptive data associated with each venue. As a part of the study’s open research approach, we have developed the site to publicly share the inventory data and to add power to the user viewing experience by providing mapping and data visualization tools. Students will work with a team to enhance web access to the Global Impact Study data.

Student expectations

Students may contribute by doing research, software or database design, software implementation, or a combination of these tasks. Students will define a specific project in the second week of the quarter, with a rough schedule and definition of deliverables. During the quarter students are required to submit weekly status reports. Deliverables are due at the end of the last week of classes. Students may propose a longer-term project if they wish to enroll for multiple quarters. Alternatively, students may participate as a junior developer by implementing new features and bug fixes.

While students will gain new skills in working on this project, this seminar is not intended primarily to be a learning experience but rather an opportunity to apply and enhance skills students already have. Another primary goal of the class is to produce tangible outputs for the project.

Potential project ideas

The following are potential student project topics based on priorities of the study. Students may propose other projects based on their skill sets and interests. The project manager and lead developer will review student proposals and help to define a specific task that will be useful for the project as a whole.

  • Devising a generic data model for hierarchical administrative districts in geographical data
  • Integration with third-party data analysis tools
  • Refactoring code for localization, to offer a multi-lingual user interface (UI)
  • Improving the implementation of map marker “clustering” in the mapping user interface
  • Implementing a user administration and activity tracking UI for project admins

Necessary skills

Skills required will depend on the task proposed. Some tasks may be only research and analysis with written deliverables, but most will require software development skills. As for more general skills, student should have at least some of the following experience:

  • Web application development using PHP
  • Use of web application frameworks, Symfony preferred
  • HTML and styling/layout using CSS
  • Javascript and use of third-party widget libraries like Dojo/Dijit, YUI, or similar
  • Database/SQL — basic concepts, relational modeling, complex queries — MySQL preferred
  • Object-relational mapping, Doctrine preferred
  • Taxonomies and other forms of information modeling
  • Basics of web server administration (Apache)
  • Linux or Unix, basic skills, shell scripting a plus
  • Familiarity with software engineering process and the use of standard development tools: revision control (cvs), bug tracking, documentation

In addition, familiarity with quantitative social science research is a huge plus.

For questions or more information on the seminar, including registration, contact Chris Rothschild.