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Purdue-developed Convoy app houses various course materials in single, easy-to-use interface

Eric Barker has been an early adopter of instructional technology since he started working for Purdue in 1998. Back when lectures were recorded on audio cassettes, the professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology and his team became the first group on campus to stream the audio, and then video, online.

Image of Barker holding iPad with Convoy app
Eric Barker, professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, holds an iPad displaying Convoy, the latest technology available in a suite of teaching and learning applications by Purdue Studio.

Technology has changed, but Barker’s mission to help students learn by making course content easily accessible hasn’t. So when Barker heard students complain about the difficulty of navigating online textbooks, he turned to his own experience with an iPad and began to envision a solution. His vision led to a new app from ITaP, called Convoy, which faculty will be able to pilot test in the fall.

“I was trying to use an online textbook in my class, but students were frustrated because they had to go to various Web pages and sections of the book to locate the appropriate information,” says Barker, a 2012-13 recipient of the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Teaching Award. “Students’ frustrations became a barrier for the adoption of technology, so we wanted to find a better way to make content accessible and seamless within a course, within a given lecture.”

After researching a variety of applications that aggregate online content, Barker and Mark Sharp, director of technical services for the College of Pharmacy, presented a prototype of their idea to ITaP’s Informatics team. ITaP then created a refined version of the app, which is the newest technology in a suite of teaching and learning technologies available through Purdue Studio.

Convoy aggregates PowerPoint slides, class handouts, videos, images, online material and note-taking functionality into a single, easy-to-use interface. It is something like a supercharged version, geared to education, of the highly popular Flipboard news and social media aggregating application.

“For any given topic I cover, there’s going to be some number of supplemental materials, and Convoy will enable students to toggle from resource to resource easily within a single app instead of having multiple apps open,” Barker says. “When I describe Convoy to my students, they all light up about it and say it would make their lives extraordinarily easy. Students are used to having the content of their life aggregated in a single spot, and they’re going to have a greater need for that as we move forward.”

Barker says Convoy is easy for faculty to use as well.

“Some individuals might wonder how hard it is to set up, and the answer is not hard at all,” he says. “I think it takes the same amount of time to set up a Convoy sequence as it does to identify page numbers in an old textbook and organize them in the syllabus. The interface side for instructors is very easy to use.”

Barker will pilot a beta version of the app in April with a dozen students in Purdue’s Doctor of Pharmacy program. Convoy currently is compatible only with iOS devices because ITaP plans to implement student and instructor feedback before modifying it for other platforms. 

Jason Fish, director of ITaP Informatics, says an updated version of Convoy will be piloted more broadly during the fall semester of 2014. Faculty members interested in using the technology may contact Fish for more information.

Additionally, individuals who have other ideas about how technology might be leveraged to improve teaching and learning are encouraged to share their thoughts with ITaP. Barker says instructors don’t need to know exactly how their idea might work to get started.

“Faculty members on the frontlines know where the challenges are for students, and ITaP has an excellent team of creative programmers who can help solve those problems,” Barker says. “If you can come up with a conceptual idea of what a possible solution might be, then that’s a great starting point to launch a product. It’s always an iterative process.”

Writer: Andrea Thomas, ITaP technology writer, 765-496-8204, thomas78@purdue.edu

Sources: Eric Barker, professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology and associate dean for research in the College of Pharmacy, 765-494-9940, barkerel@purdue.edu

Jason Fish, director of Informatics, 765-496-1088, jfish@purdue.edu

Last updated: March 14, 2014