ThunderStruct: A Data Structure and Algorithm Visualizer; Augmented Reality in Education: Boosting Learning Efficiency in a Digital World

Guo, Rickey, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Basit, Nada, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia
Rogers, Hannah, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The world is facing an unprecedented number of challenges ranging from a pandemic to climate change. Solving these complex problems requires the invention of new tools and ideas that will tap into humanity’s greatest strength — the ability to work together to organize and expand domains of knowledge. The need for dramatic increases in knowledge transfer is what motivated the following two projects. The capstone project is about designing a web app called ThunderStruct that visualizes data structures and algorithms, which are the fundamental knowledge required in the field of computer science. The STS research paper is centered around the idea of augmented reality, specifically its educational potential to unlock new learning possibilities and higher levels of engagement for students.

The idea of ThunderStruct was born out of my experiences struggling to master data structures and algorithms as a computer science student. In computer science, a data structure is a data organizational format that enables access and modification of data values. Different data structures have different efficiency trade-offs with regards to speed, operations, and ease of implementations. Algorithms, on the other hand, are sequences of instructions that manipulate data and perform computations to solve a category of problems. Data structures and algorithms are evidently abstract concepts that can be hard to comprehend without a lot of examples and visualizations. The outcome of the capstone project was ThunderStruct’s thoughtful design, which was made to address the lack of high-quality visualizers that are available for students today.

Augmented reality (AR) is the emerging field of technologies that enable digital overlays on top of the user’s view of the real world and typically include digital objects that are contextually aware of the physical surroundings. The STS research paper frames its exploration
of augmented reality as a paradigm shift in education, by arguing that the new learning possibilities and higher level of engagements are simply not possible without AR. This argument is supported by details of AR usage gathered through the literature review research method, all of which illustrate the full extent of AR’s potential to change how humans interact, use, and learn with computers.

The relationship between the capstone project and the STS research paper hinges on the fact that the same underlying motivation drove both projects. Both projects are also explorations of new types of tools built to solve problems better than existing solutions. But the two projects differ in scope and practicality. The web app designed in the capstone project is readily possible with today’s web technologies while augmented reality still suffers from technical hurdles on both hardware and software levels. In other words, ThunderStruct is about using today’s technologies to better the learning process whereas AR is still years away from fully realizing its potential. My biggest takeaway from these two projects is technology’s enduring ability to reshape the status quo for the better. I learned firsthand that the ideas of the future are always born from struggles of the present and the experiences of the past.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
augmented reality, paradigm shift, education

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Nada Basit
STS Advisor: Hannah Rogers

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