Software development is restricted to the digital elite, the .01% of the world who know how to program; most don't even dream of participating in the mysterious world of code. The Lab's mission is to to break down the "programmer divide", and radically broaden and diversify the pool of software creators Our approach is based on App Inventor, a new tool that allows absolute beginners to learn programming by building mobile apps for phones and tablets. App Inventor both heightens motivation (its really fun!) and lowers the barriers to learning, thus providing a welcome introduction to designers, artists, women, people of color, scientists, health professionals, humanities majors, entrepreneurs-- anyone who desires to add software to their creative problem solving arsenal. Our end-goal is two-fold: to empower people to thrive in today's increasingly digital society, and to infuse the software development field with creative, big-picture thinkers.
Lab Director David Wolber is a leader in mobile programming education for beginners. His book "App Inventor: Create your own Android Apps" and accompanying on-line course provide a gentle and fun introduction to programming. A key focus of the lab is the further development of these teaching materials, including a course-in-a-box to help educators launch their own courses. This work is being funded by the Keck Foundation and an NSF TUES grant for Transforming Education
App Inventor is a visual programming language designed specifically for beginners. Students are highly motivated to learn because they can create mobile apps for phones and tablets, and because the visual blocks language allows them to build interesting things right from the start. Because they are not bogged down in syntax and error messages, students are able to work on real world problems, explore logic and problem-solving, and develop a passion for computing.
Clockwise from top-left: USF's Vincent Zhang, UML's Paul Geromini, UML's Fred Martin, MIT's Hal Abelson, and USF's David Wolber,
The Lab is working with the MIT Center for Mobile Learning to develop the next generation of the App Inventor programming environment. Current efforts involve the development of the App inventor Community Gallery, an open-source studio where developers share the apps they build, and the Java Bridge code generation project, which allows App Inventor users to view Java code equivalent to the apps they build visually. These projects are high-impact and provide advanced USF students with great experience developing open-source software.
The Lab works with youth groups in the community to help facilitate after-school initiatives involving mobile programming. USF students, after taking the App Inventor course, go into the community to teach and serve as role models for kids. One effort involved five USF women teaching high-school girls as part of the Technovation Challenge. USF students have also taught at the Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology and Thurgood Marshall High School.
Professor Wolber's book and on-line teaching materials provide a ready-made curriculum that can be adapted to meet the specific needs of each group. If you're interested in working with the lab to start your own program, contact us!