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UCLA Turns to Students for App To Hush People Who Monopolize Meetings

The chancellor at the University of California Los Angeles has tapped a trio of students to tackle a problem we've all faced: meetings that have been hijacked by a lone participant at the expense of the entire group's productivity. In a challenge called "Code for the Mission," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block invited students to apply to work on the idea for a mobile app that would use voice and speech recognition to analyze and improve the dynamics of group interactions.

Students were invited to apply for a spot on the team, and three people ended up being chosen. Each will receive $1,000 for their efforts and will have the chance to work on the development of an app that could end up in the university's app store. If the app were to go commercial, team members might end up being eligible to share in the project commercially.

The three team members, Will Gu, a third-year undeclared major; Adam Garcia, fourth-year mechanical engineering; and Tanuj Lalwani, first-year computer science, met with the chancellor on May 19 to learn the basics. They'll have another meeting on July 26. In between they'll be working with the institution's Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Sponsored Research (OIP-ISR), the Office of Information Technology and the heads of the local Blackstone LaunchPad and Startup UCLA, two campus organizations that help student entrepreneurs.

The project team has until August 31 to create the app.

Code for the Mission is an annual event that pushes students to create apps for specific purposes. Other challenges in this year's competition address education (inspiring women in STEM fields), research (the use of sensors, wearables and data dashboards for health) and service (promoting community engagement and civil discourse). The chancellor's project is a separate track.

Block isn't simply interested in improving his own meetings. He said he also sees the value of the app as a research tool. For example, social scientists could study the dynamics of implicit bias by analyzing how speakers' gender, ethnicity or other characteristics could sway group response to their ideas. Or faculty might be able to use the app to track student engagement during class discussions.

The chancellor acknowledged that the project will probably end up being more of a prototype than a finished product. But he's confident that if the prototype works, "We'll be able to implement this. And I think we'll get the faculty interested in testing this this fall."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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