Bucknell University's Poetry Path has gotten a digital upgrade with help from a team of undergraduate engineering students.
The new Bucknell Paths app, available for iOS and Android devices, provides Google Maps navigation around the path, which weaves through campus and downtown Lewisburg, as well as audio playback of the poems along the path — in many cases read by the authors themselves — and additional information about each poem and its author.
Sound is crucial to the experience," said Andrew Ciotola, program manager for the Stadler Center for Poetry. "Poetry is an oral art as much as it is a textual art. Pairing poems and recordings allows us to reclaim some of that tradition."
"There are also turn-by-turn directions if you don't want to look at a map, and commands to play, pause and skip back a few seconds for the audio playback," added Adam Gegg '15, one of the computer engineering students who built the app. "When the audio plays, the lines being read are also highlighted, so it's easier to follow along, and you can click a line to skip to that point in the audio as well."
The Bucknell Paths app was developed over the course of the fall semester by Professor Stu Thompson's mobile computing class, in an experimental three-party collaboration with the Stadler Center for Poetry and the Department of Library & Information Technology (L&IT). Thompson, electrical & computer engineering, said the exercise provided not only a lesson in programming, but also direct experience working with a large team to create a product for an outside client.
"It took them out of their element," Thompson said. "The project wasn't really focused on the technology, but on providing value to the Stadler Center, a client that wasn't focused on technology alone and didn't speak their language."
"Working with L&IT and Andrew from the Stadler Center was a great experience in learning to work with large team and keeping everybody moving efficiently," added Alex Moore '15, another of Thompson's students and the project's manager.
"It was unlike any other class I've taken at Bucknell." L&IT assisted in preparing the app to launch in the Apple App Store and Google Play, and has taken over maintaining and updating the app. Mark Yerger, assistant chief information officer, said L&IT also benefitted from the collaboration with students and faculty.
"Partnering with the class allowed the L&IT to jump-start a development effort that, without their help, would have been more difficult to resource," Yerger said. "It continues to give us opportunities to learn and work with faculty and students, which is one of the most rewarding parts of our work."
Ciotola said the Stadler Center is thrilled with the app as well.
"The aim of the Poetry Path is to put poetry in the way of people who might not otherwise encounter it," Ciotola said. "The more accessible we can make the Path through technology, the more we can accomplish our goal of connecting people to poetry. This app exceeded all of our expectations."
L&IT is now managing the app, which will be updated when new poems are added to the Poetry Path this summer. Thompson's students also built-in the ability for the app to host additional tours, and they hope to add more routes in the future. One such path is the Bucknell Arboretum Walking Tour created by students in 2009–10, Thompson said.
"We built this with the idea that we could add to it as needed, and now that L&IT owns and supports it, that will continue," Thompson said. "It has a life forward."
"It could be pretty valuable to the Lewisburg community," added Steven Kaspar '15, another of Thompson's students. "Initially our idea was to make just a Stadler Center poetry app, but we thought that was too limited, so we made an app that could incorporate multiple paths. On campus, we had the Arboretum in mind, but there's also a historic Lewisburg tour. We'd like to see other guided tours added to it, making it neat resource for people around town."