Theoretically Speaking


Now that the Imagine Cup season is in full swing, I have been thinking a lot about it lately.  One thought that crossed my mind seemed interesting enough (and possibly useful enough) for me to share. 

We in academic field deal with theory.  We love the things.  We create theories, we apply theories, and we test theories.  In fact, it is difficult to find anything that we do that isn’t related to some theory!  One of the big theories in my discipline is called the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM).  Now without getting into the details of whether or not a model is a theory or dissecting each construct in the model, let me tell you what TAM is all about.  TAM deals with user acceptance of a technological innovation.  In a nutshell, it states that if people are going to accept a technology they have to 1.) perceive that it will be useful to them, and 2.) perceive that it will be easy to use.

I believe that TAM can teach us a lot when it comes to the Imagine Cup.  Let’s take a look at the twin components of usefulness and ease of use as they relate to an Imagine Cup submission.

Usefulness – in order for an Imagine Cup submission to be successful it has to make an impact on some problem (take a look at my earlier post on successful Imagine Cup projects for more on the importance of the problem).  So, of course, you have to start with a well articulated problem.  However, that isn’t enough.  You also have to demonstrate that your submission is going to be of use in solving the problem.  I believe that one way to do this is by being specific in the problem that you are trying to solve, and then keeping a tight rein on the scope of your project.  For example, I have had teams in the past that defined their problem too broadly.  This lead to to a software project that had so many features and benefits that it was difficult to explain.  Since it was difficult to explain, the usefulness of the project sort of got lost in translation…and thus was never realized by the judges. 

Remember that you only have a few minutes to state your case as to why your project is so awesome.  So, be specific in your project definition and keep the scope of the project within “elevator pitch” limits…meaning that you can tell someone everything that they need to know to make a determination on the awesomeness of your project in 1-2 minutes (this will come in REALLY handy as you create your video for the round 2 submission).

Ease of use – your project should also be easy to use.  If you are in the middle of your demonstration flipping through multiple screens at breakneck speed the judges are going to be wondering what the heck that it is that you are doing rather than taking in the brilliance of your solution.  Your application should be designed so that a 5 year old can use it.  This isn’t a knock on the judges, it is a design consideration.  Remember, you want your application to make a global impact.  Odds are that you aren’t going to get much acceptance of your application if you have to be a Nobel prize winner just to be able to use it.

Well, that is about it.  I hope that you find it helpful as you design your Imagine Cup applications.  The deadline for Round 1 is fast approaching!!

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