Penn’s data may soon become an open book for student developers to read.
Through the Open Data Initiative, students are requesting access to the University’s data in order to use it to create applications that would benefit the community.
In the past, access to University data has led to applications such as Penn Study Spaces and Penn Course Review.
The initiative, formulated by the Student Technology Advisory Board, is asking Penn to open its floodgates of data to the University’s community of developers and any other interested public parties. STAB has approached the Undergraduate Assembly and the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education to co-sign the initiative.
Currently, though some of Penn’s data such as dining hall menus and job listings on the Student Employment Office website are public, student developers are not able to integrate this data into their own applications, according to the initiative.
If the initiative is successful, students would be able to develop applications from data such as real-time locations of Penn Transit buses and building floor plans.
Chris Mustazza, director of Social Sciences Computing and Student Technology, said School of Arts and Sciences computing is in support of the initiative.
“It gives student developers the tools that will allow them to develop applications that will benefit the Penn community and it’s an all around great initiative,” he said.
Head of STAB Michael Chan, a College and Wharton junior, hopes student developers will soon be able to make applications that utilize this data. Although the initiative has not gained much traction, STAB members are working on making an impact, he wrote in an email.
“PennApps Labs informed us that they have a lot of great ideas for applications, but there isn’t the willpower at Penn to open up data and make it available for student developers,” he wrote. PennApps Labs has co-signed the initiative.
Chan said STAB has reached out to specific departments such as Penn Libraries to ask if they are willing to open up data such as the Franklin catalog.
Engineering senior Alexey Komissarouk, former engineering lead of PennApps Labs and a former organizer of the PennApps hackathon, believes the Open Data Initiative will promote innovation.
“Through releasing new data sets and organizing the existing available data together under one initiative, we stand a good chance of enabling student innovation on a level not possible before,” said Komissarouk, a former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist.
The initiative also aims to increase Penn’s accountability and transparency, as open data will allow the public to better comprehend the services provided by Penn, according to the initiative.
Chan added if the initiative is successful, STAB also hopes to convince Penn to allow external applications to be used on Penn systems, such as Penn InTouch. This would allow students to improve on existing systems by developing their own applications.
Chan hopes for a “two-way data flow” where the University would allow students access to its data and students can also add their own applications to Penn’s systems.
Other universities have already opened up their data to the public. Students at Oxford University created electronic maps of parts of its campus and graphical representations of its electric usage. Princeton and Carnegie Mellon universities have also opened up their data.
Cities such as New York have used open data to create applications showing real-time updates from commuters and an interactive map of parking spaces in the city.
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