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Mobile Apps for Non-CS Majors at USF

At the University of San Francisco, App Inventor is taught as a core curriculum course to non-computer-science majors. Many of the students take the course because they hate Math and the course covers this dreaded requirement.

Despite the non-technical background of the students, they’ve been able to learn a lot of programming and build some apps with extraordinary impact. Daniel Finnegan, an English major, created No Texting While Driving, an app that auto-responds to incoming texts and speaks them aloud. His app was cited in the New York Times and featured in a article. Carly Kralj created a Broadcast Hub app that was later customized for a thousand-person event in Helsinki Finland. This semester’s (fall 2011) students are working on, amongst other things, a communication app for Occupy Oakland, an emergency rescue app commissioned by two doctors in Denver, Colorado, an app that records the shots self-administered by MS patients, and an app for helping people realize the eco-footprint of their purchases.

The students in the course-- all beginners in computer science-- now present their apps alongside our senior and master’s students at the annual CS night, causing the older students to exclaim, “why didn’t we get to build such cool things when we started!”. Though not an explicit goal of the course, many of the students now continue on to take the next course in the CS sequence and even minor and major in CS.