Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

A is for app

Want to turn your B into an A by the end of the semester?
No problem. There’s an app for that.

Stephen MathisProfessor of Philosophy Stephen Mathis and Gregory Williams ’02, one of Mathis’s former students, have developed a grade management software application that is now available for sale through iTunes.

It is called GradeUNeed and it’s for the iPhone or iPad. The app helps students calculate how well they need to perform on remaining tests, papers and assignments to achieve a desired grade in a course by the end of a particular semester.

Users can get the big picture for the entire semester, as well as see what grade is needed on each assignment to reach an A, B, C, or, yikes, a D, by selecting the appropriate buttons. They also can track multiple courses at once.

“Let’s say you have a D after the first quiz,” explains Mathis, “the app will tell you what you need to score on the next assignment to pull it up to an A. And it continues to do that for each subsequent assignment.”

The trick is not to slip too deeply into a hole before using the app to figure out how to get out.

The initial target audience is college students, but Mathis says he thinks that high school students might find it useful as well. The app costs 99 cents— the minimum one can charge for an app without offering it for free.

The app is a result of a friendship between Mathis and Williams, who was a computer science major with a minor in philosophy. They kept in contact after Williams graduated.

Gregory Williams '02Williams is a doctoral student in computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where he does research that employs the coding languages that run Apple computers as well as the iPhone and now the iPad.

“I had been thinking of writing an iPhone app and started talking with Stephen about what might be useful in an academic situation,” said Williams.

“The result of the brainstorm,” said Mathis, “was an app that would answer one question that I, as a professor, find myself faced with from time to time: ‘What do I need to get on this test to get an A (or a B, or whatever) in this course?’”

Admittedly, this could be done with an Excel spreadsheet. But this is more fun, easier and portable.

“The app gives you a single place—on the phone you’re likely to have with you anyway—where you can record your grades and compute from them what grade you’ll need on future assignments,” notes Williams.

“It was a lot of fun working with Stephen to bring the app from idea to a working product. As far as apps go it’s on the simple end of the spectrum, but I hope and believe that people will find it useful.”

Beyond creating a useful product, says Mathis, the collaborative app development says a lot about the power of connections one makes at Wheaton. “If I hadn’t had a close connection with someone who works on software like this, I probably wouldn’t have ever set my mind to coming up with an idea like this, because I would have had no obvious way to follow through on it. The fact that I have a former student and friend who is interested in creating apps and is able to do so opened up the possibilities here.”