HowToCollege: Mentoring API for Higher Ed Students

In March 2016, CNDLS Executive Director Eddie Maloney took part in the Indie EdTech Data Summit, co-hosted alongside Kristen Eshleman, Director of Digital Learning Research & Design (dLRN) and Director of Academic Technology at Davidson College, and Adam Croom, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Oklahoma. Sparked by a joint presentation on indie music and ed tech by Croom and Jim Groom, co-founder of Reclaim Hosting, the company supporting Georgetown Domains, the gathering brought together faculty, staff, students, and ed tech thought leaders to discuss the idea of “indie ed tech”—commercial-grade, real world technology available to students for creative use, much like the digital recording technology available to independent musicians in lieu of pricey studios.

The gathering had a particular focus on personal APIs, which build on the general concept of APIs—application programming interfaces that determine how, for instance, applications talk to one another and share data—and consider how individuals can create their own rules for how their digital footprint is accessed and shared. According to Groom, previously the executive director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington, personal APIs in a higher education setting can give students autonomy in controlling how their own information—class assignments, blogs, financial aid information—is shared with digital applications and services, helping them to develop and manage their digital identities at the university and beyond. Marie Selvanadin, Associate Director for Application Development and Systems Integration at CNDLS, discusses APIs in teaching and learning as part of A Case for Open & Interconnected Systems in Universities, a white paper making the case for open data in universities.


In small groups, participants worked together to design an application that would meet a specific college student need. Maloney and Croom partnered with Audrey Watters, the writer behind Hack Education, Alan Levine, Vice President Community & CTO at New Media Consortium, and students Erika Bullock (COL’17) and Gage Holloway (Davidson) to consider the role of mentorship in the undergraduate experience. How do we help students who struggle to find a mentor—a peer, a professor—as they navigate their higher ed experience? Their answer was “HowToCollege,” an application that combines the question-and-answer forum of sites like Quora with the skill-sharing community of sites like Skillshare. Excited by the concept and eager to prototype, Eddie, Kristen, Adam, and Erika joined CNDLS developers Marie, Bill Garr, and Yong Lee earlier this month for a design sprint. Over the course of a week, the CNDLS team put incredible effort into developing a series of prototypes for student feedback, with positive results.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out this post on the Data Jam from Bullock and this post detailing the design sprint from the development team, courtesy of Lee. Both blogs are hosted by Georgetown Domains, so take this opportunity to see what it has to offer!