Blog Post

08. Take Time to Tinker With App Development

***This post has been crossposted to my "Take Time to Tinker” blog space***

Last spring (2013) I taught a course entitled Writing for Cyberspace, a required course for undergraduate students on the English Writing track at Kean University in Union, NJ.

Based on these students alone, I can attest to the fact that they are NOT technologically savvy simply because they’ve grown up with the internet, cell phones, the list goes on…

Many of my students (most between the ages of 20-30) had created a blog with accompanying posts for previous courses (required, not of their own volition), and some had experience with collaborative writing through the use of a wiki, but many were far from advanced with their skill sets.  They were more than willing to admit to me that they didn’t know a lot about technology, and didn’t feel that they were missing out in any way.  They weren’t fans of Twitter and they HATED Facebook.  The one app that most of them did utilize was Instagram, which I personally don’t use (figures, it’s one of the few that I haven’t really gotten into!)

Anyway, I developed this class to be a hybrid course, meaning that most of the time we would meet in person in a computer lab, with a few classes dedicated to working from home.  On one of these occasions, I required my students to create their own app.  Now, I fully realize how ridiculous this sounds, seeing as I just listed how my students weren’t really feeling the technology vibe, didn’t use it for much other than personal communication, and as a result, weren’t fully comfortable with using certain programs and websites on their own — the handholding was a necessity to some extent with my students (which I was fine with).  In this case, however, they were unable to receive guidance from me because they were completing it on their own time at home.

The task required that they simply download the MIT App Inventor Manual, the MIT App Inventor Program, and follow the directions as provided.  I do NOT have my students complete assignments that I haven’t done for myself first, so I had already completed this exercise months earlier.  I first learned about MIT’s App Inventor while attending Boise State’s 3DGameLab online teacher bootcamp back in August of 2012.  It was a fantastic 3-week experience.  One of the first “quests” I had to complete for learning how to design a more advanced app was to use this guide to create a VERY basic application that involved clicking and having a cat “meow.”  The tasks became more complicated from there on in, but I was only having my students complete the initial basic app to get a sense of coding basics.

In order to ensure that my students completed the task, I required that they created a screencast of the application — to demonstrate that they coded it correctly so that the app would “work.”  The app developer includes a pseudo phone that you can use to program in lieu of an Android device (phone, tablet, whatever runs Android-based apps!)  We iPhone and iPad users like myself are more than happy to have the pseudo phone at hand to test our coding skills.  My fiance had an Android phone at the time so I was able to test it both ways, and I’m happy to report it worked on a REAL phone as well :)  That said, I thought my students would be excited at the prospect of learning how to make their own app, even if it was a simple one.  I know I was when I first learned about the possibility — and for FREE — awesome!

Well, not so in the case of my students.  They hesitantly approached the topic, asking questions in the classroom while I was explaining where to download the guide from our course website, etc.  There was a flurry of emails just before the screencast was due, asking me if they’d completed the screencast correctly.  If anything, the screencast (which I’d modeled how to use multiple times in the classroom) was more disconcerting to them than the app assignment itself!

I am happy to report though that they ALL managed to complete the first task AND create a screencast demonstrating that it worked properly.  I was very proud of them as they explained their hours of hard work (I think it depends on your level of tech savvy here, because it took me a bit of time to get used to, but it didn’t take me hours to complete the first app task).  They were quite proud of themselves as well, but asked me to promise them that they wouldn’t have any more app-development tasks between that assignment and the end of the semester.

I love giving my students assignments that force them to “take the time to tinker” on their own with the technology.  Further, whenever possible, I assign tasks that require the use of multiple Web 2.0 tools, like screencasting and app development.

Feel free to ask me any questions if I’ve left any information out here.  I just wanted to give a general overview of assigning the task and what to expect upon doing so!

~emh

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