Online learning leads to app development

When Weiser High School wrestling Coach Drew Dickerson approached student Nathan Eliason in June 2012 about creating an app for the iPad that would track wrestling stats for the team, Eliason answered, “I’m not sure I can build this but I would like to try.”

Excited by the project, Eliason began creating mock ups and writing code for the app during the summer break between his sophomore and junior year. Although he was close to completing the app, Eliason’s enthusiasm turned to frustration as the summer wore on. He had no network to ask coding questions, he was learning a new operating system on his MacBook needed for the programming language he was using, and the coaches began to pressure him to finish the app by the beginning of wrestling season in November. To top it off, he knew absolutely nothing about wrestling. Eliason began to wonder if he could really pull off this project.

Working in the school office one morning at the beginning of the school year, Eliason happened to see someone looking at the course catalog from the Idaho Education Network (IEN). What he found was exactly what he needed: an interactive videoconferencing course in Mobile App Development taught by Jason Torgrimson at Twin Falls High School.

Eliason worked with Weiser High School Principal Dave Davies to enroll in Torgrimson’s class during the fall 2012 semester and development of the wrestling stats app moved forward again. In addition to teaching Eliason the basics of mobile app development, Torgrimson patiently answered questions as Eliason applied his newfound knowledge to his wrestling app.

Introduction to distance learning

Eliason’s first introduction to the virtual world was during an interactive video session with NASA during middle school. As the class spoke to astronauts aboard the space station, Eliason realized the possibilities that existed outside of Weiser. “It was magical,” said Eliason. But it wasn’t until after he struggled with online classes and discovered Torgrimson’s class that he discovered his love for interactive video courses.

Nathan_Eliason1Even though Eliason is a highly motivated student, the online process was difficult and he procrastinated under this structure. “After struggling with online courses, I have found my niche with live distance learning,” said Eliason. “If every student realized the opportunities, they would be excited about the possibilities.”

This sentiment is shared by Eliason’s mom and dad. “Parents don’t realize the opportunities that are available,” said Eliason’s mom, Shelly. “If it wasn’t for the IEN, Nathan wouldn’t have had any opportunities in Weiser. He was going to stagnate as far as his education was concerned – it wouldn’t have been available to him at all.”

Distance learning opportunities are possible at Weiser because of Principal Davies’ leadership. An early IEN adopter, Weiser High School embraced the live, interactive video courses by offering unique content like Holocaust Literature and receiving hard to find courses such as dual credit Calculus II and Torgrimson’s IT courses.

“Nathan and students like him are the reason that the IEN is so valuable to rural school districts in Idaho,” said Davies. “The IEN has leveled the playing field for these students and if it were not for the IEN, they would have missed out on these valuable educational experiences.”

Teacher and mentor

During the mobile app development course, Torgrimson’s role shifted between teacher and mentor as he continued to answer questions about Eliason’s wrestling app. Taking a vested interest in Eliason’s college and career readiness, Torgrimson invited him to participate in Twin Falls High School’s SkillsUSA Chapter which includes virtual participation in the upcoming Google I/O ’13 conference. This conference is part viewing experience and part community building as programming includes local developer demos, hackathons, and speaker sessions.

Eliason’s connections now extend beyond just the classroom. He boasts a network of connections related directly to software development and has discovered a path towards college and career. Eliason recently job shadowed at Hewlett-Packard, where he was able to see the real-world connection between the classroom and the workplace as he followed a group of developers. Not only was he exposed to the business needs of Hewlett-Packard, but he participated in video-conference meetings in HP’s halo room (a videoconferencing meeting room), an experience he says the IEN prepared him for.

“Technology is influenced by technology and learning how to socialize over video takes time. Students should take an IEN class because the world is more interconnected than ever before,” said

Eliason as he described how the different teaching methods are preparing him for life after high school. “The more exposure the students get, the more they will be able to handle.”

This concept is not lost on Torgrimson, whose own curiosity and innovation drives him to test out new plans and ideas. He tests out information in his personal ventures so the content he provides the students is current and relative to what they are doing in the classroom and prepares them for what they will be doing in their careers, according to Twin Falls High School principal Ben Allen.

“The best thing about Jason is that he is always seeking new adventures in the area of information technology,” said Allen. “The IEN provided an avenue and the network to help Jason meet the needs of the students.”

iStats Wrestle is born

After further market research with wrestling coaches and scorekeepers, Eliason completed coding and submitted the app to Apple for approval and it formally launched on October 31, 2012, just in time for wrestling season.

iStats Wrestle allows the user to manage and track statistics for a wrestling team and synchronizes stats between multiple iPads. Simply input the wrestler names, enter stats as each match takes place, and the app does the rest. It scores every match, keeps all matches chronologically ordered, organizes individual matches into events, and generates statistics for each wrestler on the team. Eliason says the best feature is the cloud sync, support, and access, but what sets him apart from the competition is the onetime price for the app which can be downloaded on multiple iPads sharing the same Apple user account.

“Even though I was advised to charge more than $39.99 for the app, I wanted it to be affordable for anyone to use,” said Eliason. “It broadens the impact.”

Despite Eliason’s initial goal of having at least 10 downloads, he reported over 1,400 downloads from the U.S., Europe, and Saudi Arabia. He graciously declined to say how many were sales versus downloads for multiple devices on one Apple account. As “proud teacher” Torgrimson stated, “Not bad for a junior in high school. These kids have so much potential!”

Eliason’s technical support has impressed his customers too. After monitoring reviews on the App Store and receiving feedback by email, Eliason rolled out a minor update in December 2012. It was the major update in March 2013 that earned him several five-star ratings, kudos for the quick tech support, and compliments such as, “All around best wrestling app I’ve used yet.”

“Everyone thinks I’m an actual company,” said Eliason. “They don’t realize I’m just a 16-year old in Idaho.”

Next steps

Although Eliason could have graduated a year early, he opted to stay because of the courses he enrolled in over the IEN, including IT Help Desk and AP Computer Science, both dual credit courses from Torgrimson. Shelly is grateful for the opportunity to keep Eliason in school and challenged for one more year.

“This is not as easy as it looks,” said Eliason. “I put in a lot of hard work. This app was bigger than I thought it would be but it was a really rewarding process.”

Eliason has begun process of researching colleges and universities and has his senior year planned. Activities include piano camp and flying to Pittsburgh to attend Code Camp at Carnegie Mellon University. Eliason feels a little overwhelmed and scared but is excited about his future and the opportunity to develop a community of students interested in software development because of IEN classes.

In the meantime, Eliason continues to mentor with Torgrimson while learning a new programming language, allowing him to make further updates to iStats Wrestle for improved user experiences. He doesn’t have time to practice the piano or play video games, but he would like to see more zero-hour classes available over the IEN that he could take advantage of, although his parents might have something to say about additional course load. When approached by a Seattle-based firm to create a health information app, Eliason’s parents had to draw the line, citing school priorities.

Eliason acknowledged those that made this journey possible including his parents, his principal, the IEN, and most of all, Mr. Torgrimson. “He isn’t just a teacher, he’s a mentor,” said Eliason. “Passionate teachers take it a step further.”

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