Informatics puts knowhow to work
'We're building something that helps people and is lasting'
Katherine Wooler - March 8, 2011
You might say Dal students are helping fire fighters put out fires—of a metaphorical sort.
Students with Dalhousie’s Informatics program in the Faculty of Computer Science have partnered with the Nova Scotia Fire Fighters School to give its public face a technical makeover.
The ambitious project began in January 2010, and is the focus of a mandatory project management class for Informatics students. The class, comprised of students from all years of study, is divided into four groups. Each group is assigned a different component of the same project: website development, e-commerce, database management, and technical training, explains Norm Scrimger, professor with the Faculty of Computer Science, where the Informatics program resides.
The Nova Scotia Fire Fighters School provides training for firefighters. While the school has a campus in Waverley, the majority of Nova Scotia’s 8,000 volunteer firefighters live outside the Halifax Regional Municipality; the community organization needed an updated website to better serve its dispersed audience.
Aiding community organizations
Carrie Bourque, fifth-year Health Informatics major, leads the team investigating website design. The new website will allow NSFFS administrators to keep thousands of volunteer firefighters up to date on available courses and online training materials, while increasing promotion and awareness for the school, offering online registration, and eliminating costly mail-outs. This is Ms. Bourque’s sixth community outreach project, but the first that has spanned more than one semester. She says being a team leader has encouraged her to pursue a career in project management.
Past projects have introduced Ms. Bourque and other students to community organizations such as the IWK Bereavement Team and the Women In Technology Society (WITS); the current NSFFS project has been similarly eye-opening. Nancy Sweeney, executive assistant of NSFFS, says it’s been a learning experience for both sides.
Team lead for the database group, Gazheck Sinclair, says it was a challenge to recreate an entire database under the time constraints of the course, but that the experience has “let students know what to expect in the workforce.” This is the first time that Ms. Sinclair, a fourth-year Software Systems major, has worked in a focused group as part of a larger team and she says she enjoys the collaborative work. The updated database will provide NSFFS with more efficient administration.
The training group is in charge of familiarizing the client with the technological resources. Team lead Andrew Tse explains that they will provide NSFFS administrators with a training session and take-home materials. His group must have a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the project and compile information from the other three teams onto a Wikinotes website that will offer instructive resources like tutorial videos.
Working on the training team required an interesting “psychological switch from student to teacher,” says second-year student Susanne van der Wal.
Software Systems major Luke MacIntosh is part of the group assigned to organize e-commerce for the NSFFS. Group members have learned about merchant accounts, taxation, and shipping—elements that are not normally included in Informatics study. The new experience has given him an “appreciation for web stores” and “building from scratch,” he says. E-commerce will allow the NSFFS to put its large bookstore online, as well as raise money for the organization.
The students have enjoyed the “real-world” aspect to the project, knowing what they’ve worked on will be used long after they graduate.
Instead of working to impress their professor, says student Maria Naggaga, they’re thinking more about the firefighters who’ll use the site. It feels great to work a real-world scenario, adds Mr. MacIntosh, “We’re building something that helps people and is lasting.”
The project management class is currently preparing to let the website go live, implementing the new database and e-commerce resources and training their client.
LINK: Bachelor of Informatics program