Thompson’s Apps Innovate Class

By Will Keffler


RJ Thompson, a graphic and interactive design assistant professor at Youngstown State University, has created a new education platform designed to compete with Blackboard Learn, YSU’s current platform.


After countless headaches, Thompson decided he could save himself from the trouble of Blackboard by creating his own platform.


“I adamantly loath Blackboard,” Thompson said. “So in spite of that, I created my own version called ‘STUDY’.”


Thompson hopes that one day, STUDY can be a substitute for Blackboard Learn. The program has an additional service- it works in tandem with apps that Thompson created to go along with the courses he teaches at YSU.


In January 2014, Thompson launched an app on the Apple store to be used specifically with his intro to typography class.


“[I wanted to] create a more accessible, instant way of connecting students to the class,” Thompson said.


Between 2014 and 2016, Thompson launched four more apps based on his classes to work concurrently with STUDY.


Kent Kerr, an adjunct professor of the department of art and one of Thompson’s beta testers for STUDY, found that even before the introduction of the apps, STUDY was effective.


“It beat the pants off of Blackboard,” Kerr said.  “but it still had its kinks.”


With the integration of the apps, Thompson solved the drawbacks of STUDY, while simultaneously extending his reach to his students.


“The apps and STUDY are entirely dissimilar, but they’re connected technologically,” Thompson said. “So it allows me to update something, and it proliferates out to multiple sources.”


By placing assignment criteria, project schedules and various resources all within the palms of students’ hands, Thompson was able to create a convenient point of reference for accessing any course information.


Nathan Unger, a graphic and interactive design student, said that the app provides things for the students that they normally don’t get to experience in other classes.


“[The apps have] removed the need for a textbook and provides its creator the ability to design how the user experiences the information.”


Along with the resources, Thompson made it a point for the apps to feature the work of his students to add recognition for the work they produce. Thompson said this feature adds legitimacy to students; work and increases their appetite for success.


“The more I learn, the more I can teach. For instance, I now have students that already have their own apps in stores,” said Thompson.


Most recently, Youngstown Design Works, a student-run graphic and interactive designing agency led by Thompson, launched an app of their own in December.


The new app is intended to be a user-friendly program that connects potential clients with Youngstown Design Works by spotlighting the agency’s past projects and giving possible buyers a different way to contact the company.


The design group primarily serves nonprofits, startups, small businesses and community groups, so the app allows them to reach out to a greater audience at virtually no cost, which in turn, gives Thompson’s design students more real-world job experience.


Even with all his successes, Thompson said his ambitions have not decreased in the slightest.


“I’m personally not happy with any of this. As soon as I build a program, something new and greater comes out. I’m never really satisfied,” Thompson said. “I haven’t found any faculty members, at any university, that are specifically building mobile apps for their classrooms, and I want to change that.”


Thompson said he hopes that eventually hewill be able to flood campuses with apps of the same nature.


“I’m hoping that I can use what I’ve learned here to build into other classroom apps,” Thompson said. “I would love to build apps for other faculty members, not just in the art department, but across campus.”