Our team (for the most part) has been fully remote this year. While transitioning to a fully virtual learning system was a big adjustment, we noticed that learning in a few classes was especially difficult. After asking around amongst peers, we determined that it was not just us that were struggling; it was an awful lot of us. So, with this knowledge, we wanted to do something about it. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone. We knew that local and school tutoring centers were closed and many other online options required payments. As students, we know that asking for payments is effectively a barrier from learning for many students across the country. We understand the importance of learning and feel that access to quality and free tutoring is crucial to widespread success. So, we set out to create an app that does just that - provide easy access to free tutoring in hopes of making an impact on everyone's learning, especially during these unprecedented times.
What it does
LocalTutor is designed to provide access to free tutoring for all. It allows users to view local and/or virtual tutoring posts and allows tutors to securely post tutoring sessions. Users are greeted with a clean and simple UI upon launch. From there, they can choose to view local tutoring sessions by zip code and/or directly reach out to tutors with specific questions by clicking "View Tutors." Finally, tutors can securely login and create new sessions, delete existing sessions, and change personal information. In the next update, tutors will be able to track their tutoring sessions within the app and receive a community service hour certificate that will help motivate tutors to keep teaching through the app.
Our solution is unique because it benefits both students and tutors, all while being free. Students get to learn and tutors get community service hours, which is especially enticing to older students looking to get hours or to anyone that wants to give back to their community. The UI is also very simple, meaning it is difficult to get sidetracked or lost while using the app - simply find the session you need, attend, and learn.
How we built it
Although we used MIT App Inventor, our head programmer, Tyler Murphy, decided we'd have to create a node.js backend server first as MIT App Inventor did not offer any way to create a remote server for tutors to securely log into and for users to see what sessions were available. After quickly creating a simple server, we coded the app in MIT App Inventor. Again, we ran into the many limitations of MIT App Inventor, but we were able to create a basic version of our app as a proof of concept.
Challenges we ran into
The main challenge we ran into was figuring out a way to allow tutors to create accounts while keeping students out but also providing an updated list of sessions for students to choose from. We also wanted to include calendar APIs, but MIT made this a bit difficult. So, we decided to create a node.js backend server to hold all the sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and session information, and created the app in MIT App Inventor. The server is linked to the app so that the app will display the most up-to-date information. Creating a more polished GUI was also difficult. MIT App Inventor is great for a basic concept, but we were trying to create a more polished look that was not possible with this platform. In the future, we may be able to switch to something that allows us to create a more professional-looking app, but for now, the current GUI is as clean and simple as possible.
As said before, we plan to app calendar APIs in the future so tutoring session information will automatically be synced to the user's calendar of choice for ease of scheduling. We also want to create an hour tracker into the app so tutors can track how many hours they've worked through the app. Tracking these hours will allow us to work with another service to issue certificates of community service to further motivate tutors to keep using LocalTutor. In-app messaging to tutors instead of emailing is another feature we'd like to implement. This way, students can directly reach out to tutors with any specific questions. Finally, a more aesthetically pleasing GUI is a major goal as we think the look and feel of an app contributes a lot to the user experience. As of now, the GUI is a bit basic, but again, it's something that can be taken care of with a different platform if we choose to go that route.
What we learned
Working together remotely as a team really highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. We learned who is capable of what, and how to market our app. I think the most important thing we learned is how to figure out what people want. It's hard to read minds and create a solution to a problem you don't know exists. Through this experience, we not only learned how to reach out to people and learn what is in demand, but also learned the technical skills to do help alleviate common problems.