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April 22, 2013

Signs of the times: Student project assists ASL instruction

When more than 600 students from Michigan State University’s College of Engineering present their projects at this year’s Design Day, the work will include the development of an app that will help teach American Sign Language.

This year’s Design Day is from 8 a.m. to noon April 26 in the MSU Engineering Building. It’s a time when as many as 140 student projects are on display, projects that not only offer an educational experience for the students, but benefit people and businesses throughout the region.

For example, a team of students worked with TechSmith, an Okemos, Mich.-based company, to develop the ASL app.

The way it works is an ASL teacher will create a lesson plan – a video that is gathered from YouTube or they create – that demonstrates them doing signs. This work is performed on a Microsoft Surface tablet, the newest generation of tablet.

“The student will then watch the video, record themselves signing and send it back to the teacher,” said team member Adam Crane, a senior engineering student. “The teacher can then review the video, draw on it, add voice over and grade the student.”

Wayne Dyksen is a professor of computer science and engineering and the team’s faculty adviser. He said while he provides some guidance, it’s the team that does all of the heavy lifting.

“It’s their responsibility to work with the client, figure out what they want, what it should look like, how the technology should work and how it should all be put together,” said Dyksen, who also serves as the executive director of Design Day.

Graduating seniors will be the highlight of the event as they present their capstone design projects and interact with some 38 industrial sponsors, 28 of which are Michigan based. Other projects include a bean-seed dryer for Central American farmers; a reverse osmosis filter; an autonomous target-tracking robot; and many others.

"Design Day has grown to become a true capstone event for our students. A day to show off to their peers, their professors and potential employers how well they have learned the disciplinary knowledge and integrated their experiences at MSU and with partners during their time as undergraduate students,” said Leo Kempel, acting dean of the College of Engineering. “The role of industrial, government and other partners is critical in making this experience both exemplary and transformative for all of our students.”

In addition, nearly 150 Michigan pre-college students also will visit the campus during Design Day to take part in the Dart Foundation Day of Engineering Innovation and Creativity. The high schoolers will interact with College of Engineering students and participate in a number of hands-on activities.

For more information on Design Day, visit


By: Tom Oswald