OU Create: The (My)SQL

A couple months ago, my good friend Chris Kobza and I grabbed coffee. He is the manager of the Learning Spaces team in OU IT and can do all the stuff I wish I can. He works on his truck, fishes, and  oversees the outfitting all the classroom technology. I say this because he’s a total man’s man and I just noodle around on computers. I’m jealous, ok?!

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But I disgress. We were having coffee and Chris tells me that he has been tapped to teach a class called “Computer-Based Info Systems,” which is out of our MIS department and a class taken by any student in the Price College of Business. Historically, this class has built databases on Microsoft Access as a class project. This led to us having a discussion about what is a meaningful project to students which is something I’m constantly thinking about in my own class. Above anything else, I want students to have enough autonomy over a project where they can make it relevant to themselves. So I started telling Chris that if I was to make a relevant database to my life, I would probably do it over something that is seemingly mundane unless you were me. Like, for instance, I’ve always wanted a campus database of where restrooms are located. While this may be a little personal, I spend a lot of time across campus and… would love to know the most effective way to optimize taking advantage of our facilities. :smiley:

Somehow this idea latched on with Chris and he ran with it. He crafted an assignment where students had to come up with three verbs in which they wanted to build databases for (Eat, Energize, Workout, Print, etc.). I showed him OU Create and he mentioned that the students could us phpMyAdmin to actually build MySQL databases. After a few days of work, he had produced this:

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phpMyAdmin, which is available to everyone through their OU Create CPanel, looks like this:

index.php#PMAURL-2-db_structure.php

As you can see, Chris has created a brand new database which has five tables: bench, eat, fish, location, and netflix. Let’s drill down into a table:

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Here’s a database table with four columns: bench_ID, bench_name, location, and shadeYN. These serve has various qualifiers for each bench in the database. Where is it located? What’s it’s name? Does it include shade? You can imagine someone querying this type of database if they were looked for a shaded park bench in the North Oval of the OU Campus.

Now the creativity comes in when we want to think about how one can easily build a front-end that actually calls the database (and is something that can be replicated by 60 students with non-technical backgrounds). Since WordPress is naturally somewhat intuitive, Chris looked for a solution native to WP. He found a plugin called ABASE for Accessing MySQL Databases, which allows you to query a MySQL database without having to code PHP using WP shortcodes. Settings look like this:

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Students then create pages for each “verb.” The bench page for instance uses HTML to generate a form and then the shortcode for querying.

And, just like that, students are creating fully fledged searchable databases with WordPress.

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How did it go? I watched fifteen (!) groups present websites with OU centric database calls. From shopping to studying to tutoring to printing to lodging, students tackled a great deal of areas, collected the information, and publicly disseminated their results in an interesting way.

What particularly interests me about this project is that it takes a creative approach on domains. Several OU Create projects focus around portfolios and blogging, which is great in my mind, but doesn’t necessary apply to every course. Students in Chris’ course, with varying backgrounds and majors, get a low barrier of entry into building a database. This project isn’t just all about learning how to code though. This is our community expressing themselves first as students situated in a physical place that isn’t always intuitive. To quote one student groups about page:

Our mission is to help freshmen navigate the seemingly overwhelming campus that our university calls home.

OU Create gave students an opportunity to design solution that was public facing (and didn’t require a Microsoft product). As we continue to talk to more folks across campus, I’m constantly reminded of how much domains can achieve across a wide range of disciplines to build meaningful projects.