Youth Radio's Mobile Action Lab has been on the move--physically and virtually!
App Inventor Meeting: Chicago
Asha Richardson and I just got back from Google's Chicago offices, where we hooked up with fellow DML 2010 competition winner, the amazing LeShell Hatley from DC's Youth App Lab, and other digital media educators working in libraries, schools, and community-based sites. The point of the meeting was to share ideas and set goals for using Google's App Inventor, which lets novice programmers create apps for Android phones. We use AI in a major way with our Mobile Action Lab participants, to introduce students to the logic of coding and the specific affordances of mobile platforms, and as a workshop space for emerging app ideas.
Asha joined Youth Radio as a high school student and a few years later co-founded the Mobile Action Lab with me and the others on our team last fall. She and I presented a beta version of our All Day Play app, which was prototyped in two days at our winter App Inventor workshop led by Mills College's Drew Mason. Together we talked about how Youth Radio has used App Inventor in our program, and we learned a whole lot from others at the meeting about how to make even better use of it moving forward.
We're hoping to participate in other App Inventor gatherings in Mountain View this summer.
Forage City App: Los Angeles
We've written here previously about another app in our portfolio: Forage City. It facilitates the redistribution of excess backyard fruit by crowd-sourcing collection and pick-up, and by inviting community organizations to receive free fresh produce. We've created the app in collaboration with Asiya Wadud, who was interviewed recently by Sara Harris, host of the awesome LA radio show, Hear in the City, on KPFK fm. You can check out the interview here. Thank you Sara for shining a light on this work! Forage City is in development and we're planning for a summer release (perfect timing for stone fruit bounty).
Peabody Awards: New York
A team from Youth Radio traveled to NYC last week for the Peabody Awards ceremony, where our newsroom was honored for our investigative report on child sex trafficking in Oakland, produced in partnership with National Public Radio. As we've noted, that story as well as Youth Radio's long history covering youth-police relations have inspired work on another app in our pipeline, which provides a resource to promote understanding and accountability between young people and law enforcement. More on that one very soon!
Mobile Action Lab in the News: NSF
NSF took notice of how Youth Radio's teaching app development and published a great article about our work on Science 360. An excerpt:
"Through hands-on workshops, we're not just theorizing about app development--we're actually learning the coding side," said Asha Richardson, a project associate at Mobile Action Lab. "That's something not enough people know--what programming is--not enough schools talk about it. App Inventor uses coding blocks, and you have to know which parts go where in order to make your app do what you want it to do. You move the coding blocks around, then throw it on the phone, see if it works, fix it, and then try again."
Austin De Rubira explained how the principles he learned at this workshop serve an integral role in Mobile Action Lab. One of these principles is the "iterative development process."
"It's basically creating something through trial and error--you try something, and if it doesn't work, you fix it until it does work," explained De Rubira, an intern at Mobile Action Lab. "That was a really hands-on definition of the iterative development process. It definitely clicked in my mind and it really made a lot of sense to me. Iterative development is a very effective way to work on apps, and that's how I've been thinking about our entire process with the Mobile Action Lab..."
De Rubira described the tediousness and attention to detail required of this process. "I've learned that an app, if any part of it isn't good, it's not going to be a good app. If it doesn't have good graphics, you won't be interested," said De Rubira. "If it's a bad concept, obviously that won't work. The interface is really important too. If it's not intuitive to work with, the functionality has to be such that--in addition to being fun to play with, it has to do something that'll make you interested in making you come back."
I added my two cents to a site Jonathan Wardle has put together aggregating "media manifestos" from educators and scholars from around the world. You can check that out here.
Two more upcoming events we're excited about. I'll be on a panel this coming Friday at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters meeting in SF. Our panel, chaired by PRX's Jake Shapiro, centers on "Using Mobile to Serve the Community." And members of the Mobile Action Lab team will be participating in the Code for Oakland event this weekend as well. We'll post updates!