CourseChat Expands UCLA Engineering Course Management System

A team of UCLA engineering students have developed an open source instant messaging tool – CourseChat – that will offer other students in the School a new way to communicate outside of class with each other and their instructors about their coursework.

UCLA engineering students can now use CourseChat to hold virtual study groups or attend office hours online. CourseChat, which uses an open source instant messaging protocol called Jabber, was designed by students in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and developed as part of a computer science class project.

CourseChat is an extension of CourseWeb, a course management system developed and in use at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. CourseWeb provides engineering students and their instructors with an easy-to-use tool for managing their engineering courses online and tools to enhance their educational experience.

Computer science undergraduates Shaun Ahmadian and Wing Kai Chan, together with alumnus Jason Schroeder (’04), identified several key functions they wanted the new instant messaging system to include, including one-on-one messaging, class chat rooms, and a whiteboard.

“It’s exciting,” says Ahmadian, “I never realized that a small project like this could contribute to the School. And it gave us the opportunity to experience the process of software development from idea through the requirements to deployment.”

Adds Schroeder, “I started tinkering with Jabber technology almost three years ago. The Jabber deployment at SEASnet makes me feel like I have contributed something to my alma mater, and to the community.”

After deciding on CourseChat as a project for ACM, Schroeder, Ahmadian and their colleagues approached SEASnet about the possibility of incorporating the tool into CourseWeb. Working closely with SEASnet staff Orachat Chieu and Rex Lorenzo, the team identified the system requirements and features, and developed a working system.

“SEASnet had been exploring other chat services for CourseWeb prior to ACM’s CourseChat proposal, but after careful evaluation we decided to go with ACM’s proposal,” explains Chieu. “It’s taken considerable effort to introduce an emerging technology into our existing infrastructure, but we decided that we wanted to provide our users with a promising new technology with the potential to be dominant in the instant messaging field. The CourseChat project has given our engineering students a chance to put their talents into practice and contribute to the community, and SEASnet is proud to oversee this process.”

ACM received support from the UCLA Engineering Alumni Association that funded the purchase of a server for development and testing of the system.

Using CourseChat, students in the School will be able to view a list of students enrolled in their classes, and initiate online conversations with individual classmates. Each class will have an associated chat room, which can be used to hold virtual study groups or office hours if the professor or teaching assistant is logged in to CourseChat. Messages posted in the chat rooms will be archived and can be viewed later.

Using the whiteboard function, two users can share a writing board to exchange ideas more easily conveyed with pictures or sketches, facilitating one-on-one real-time collaboration outside of class.

“We hope the students using CourseChat will be invested in the system,” notes Ahmadian. “In the end, I hope students can contribute to this project like many other open-source projects with patches and improvements over time.”

Main Image: Ahmadian and Chan.