Students, IEI Staffers Find ‘Commons’ Ground

What do you get when you combine an Emerging Issues Commons thinking about a facelift with a class of computer science students thinking outside the box?

Great suggestions for innovation and practical real world experience.

If you’ve visited the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library on NC State’s Centennial Campus, you’ve seen the Emerging Issues Commons. Situated on the cutting-edge library’s second floor, the space of interactive exhibits and displays highlight the work of the Institute for Emerging Issues, as well as data from across the state.

Currently, IEI is in the initial stages of planning a revamp for the space, which currently includes a large video wall, running videos and static displays. IEI staffers have long been discussing ways to make the space, installed in 2012, more interactive and engaging.

Enter NC State computer science professor Ben Watson and his graduate level User Experience computer science course in which students complete a user experience project for a “client.” IEI participated in the course project as a client. A group of seven students studied the Commons and then met with IEI staffers for ways to make the area more innovative.

“Doing it is the best way to learn it,” Watson said. “And the students learn soft skills from working with actual clients, as well as teamwork.”

IEI gets a youthful perspective and new ideas.

“There’s so much talent and knowledge here. We’re always looking for emerging ideas. There’s strength in numbers and we can learn from each other,” said IEI IT Manager James Herrick.

After meeting with IEI staffers twice in April, the computer science students gave IEI staffers a number of suggestions on the commons, such as incorporating QR codes and making the top of the wall more dynamic, which is what people see from far away.

“The skills that I have learned through this project like presenting an idea in a persuasive manner, teamwork, collaboration, evaluation of a product, are definitely going to help me in each project my professional career as these are generic skills and are not specific to any particular technology,” said Kapil Chopra, one of the student team members.

Set off by the IEI Ribbon, which features changing colors and scrolling, IEI-specific messages, the Commons currently features interactive displays that visualize more than 100 county-level data points and allow users to input their own ideas for displays.

The Commons space, as well as its online companion site, are designed to facilitate discussion around some of North Carolina’s most pressing issues in the areas of education, health, economy, and environments. Previously, IEI staffers have discussed other ideas for making the Commons more interactive, such as a virtual “Free Expression” wall, social and news media feeds and greater data personalization, such as exhibits which allow users to bring up groups of stories related to a topic or place.

Learn more about the IEI Commons and its companion website.

–Beth Hatcher

Watch a video of the students’ project: