Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush: Alumna’s Mobile App Educates Harvard Arboretum Visitors
As the applications programmer at the Arnold Arboretum, Donna Tremonte was transitioning from a background in botany to IT. Just last May, she completed the Information Technology Graduate Program with a concentration in digital media arts and instructional design. For her thesis, Donna combined both passions, creating Plants in the Arboretum Landscape: A Mobile Application Guide, a self-guided mobile tour of Harvard’s arboretum that provides visitors with educational content at their fingertips.
Below, Donna discusses the inspiration behind her thesis and how she hopes to expand upon it for future projects.
Where did the idea for your project originate?
My project began out of the desire to streamline the workflow for updating the arboretum’s Adobe Flash map on its website and to implement a truly interactive map for the arboretum. The Arnold Arboretum had a Flash-based map used to highlight seasonal plants. In order to update any of the data presented on the map, arboretum visitor education staff had to submit changes to the IT group. This decoupling of the editing and publishing of data was cumbersome and caused delays to publication.
Among other things, the Arboretum’s Mobile Interactive Map web app is an attempt to empower non-IT staff by enabling them to make changes directly to the app and to empower visitors to explore at their own pace, while having access to educational information.
What was the process like?
Do you plan to update your project or create similar applications in the future?
Yes, we are currently working on expanding the functionality of the Flickr tours and allowing users to upload their own photos and make comments. We would also like to add more actual tours to the application. At present, users can locate themselves on the map and view over 15,000 plants and selected plant highlights from Flickr. We would like to expand this to guide visitors through the landscape on specific tours and much more.
How has your thesis project and Harvard Extension helped you in your professional aspirations?
When I began my transition from botany to IT, I started out by taking courses at Harvard Extension School. I had wonderful professors and courses along the way. In fact, David Malan’s Understanding Computer’s and the Internet was my first ever computer course. Now, my responsibilities include managing applications, databases, and the website for the Arnold Arboretum. Through the Extension School, I gained the skills I needed to be successful in this position. My final thesis project gave me the opportunity to build something much needed for the arboretum, and also to make my job easier by removing an old technology and replacing it with a new one.
In June, we profiled alumna Christine Bower, who created Portbou 1940, a digital media story chronicling the last days of Walter Benjamin, a cultural anthropologist who died trying to escape the Nazis.
And we’ll be featuring several other mobile application projects from our accomplished students and alumni. Stay tuned!