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MIT App Inventor visits China, June 2015

The MIT App Inventor team of Wei Li (graduate student) Andrew McKinney (Director of Software Development), and I, Felicia Kamriani (Manager of Educational Outreach & Business Development), voyaged to China for 3 weeks to meet with government officials, university professors, and business leaders to discuss ways of incorporating App Inventor in the Chinese educational systems.

First on the agenda was a visit to picturesque Guilin. Our gracious Esquel host, Natalie Tao, organized some amazing excursions for us including: visiting the famous Reed Flute Caves and sailing on the Li River in a bamboo raft amidst intermittent thundershowers. The App Inventor team gave presentations at the Guilin University of Electronic Technology to a packed auditorium of about 300 students who braved torrential rains to attend.
They even made posters for us!

Also in Guilin, we visited the Esquel garment factory owned by MIT alum, Marjorie Yang. Esquel was undergoing phase one of the Esquel App Challenge, a contest in which employees were encouraged to collaborate with others and submit app concepts that they would build out with App Inventor.
We had the pleasure of meeting the first round winners at the awards ceremony and discovering their winning designs. Winners travelled from numerous Esquel factory locations around China and Malaysia and represented a wide range of departments from dying to sewing to IT to finance to business development. Some standout app concepts included: promoting social engagement among departments, dating, safety for women leaving work at night and even a visualization tool to view different fabrics on garments. Interestingly, Esquel also supports a Guilin hospital, so a group of nurses participated in the Esquel App Challenge, creating a photo capturing and album app to document parents and newborns.

This experience captured App Inventor at the nexus of education, entrepreneurship, and industry. Not only were employees collaborating on a creative endeavor, but they were brainstorming solutions to increase connection, productivity, engagement and happiness among workers. And most remarkable of all, they are developing their technical skills by learning to make mobile apps with App Inventor!

We spent 5 days in Guangzhou attending the 1st International Conference on Mobile Learning and Computational Thinking Education based on App Inventor, which was sponsored by Google China, Bureau of Education of Guangzhou Municipality, and South China University of Technology. Speakers hailed from the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and over 300 teachers came from all over China and Hong Kong. Topics included computational thinking, innovative thinking, unleashing creativity, and app making for education, industry, sustainability and relevancy.

Being at such an international conference with such passionate learners reminded me not just of the vast reach App Inventor has around the world (over 3 millions users have created over 8 million apps) but of true impact of the App Inventor mission: app making for everyone! App Inventor is indeed providing a pathway for people of all ages, talents and skill levels to contribute to society and impact others in a positive way. As one Esquel employee stated so eloquently, “App Inventor gives everyone a superhero’s special power to change the world.”

In Foshan and Gaoming, we gave several talks to groups of teachers, met with local government officials, visited an App Inventor class at a world class high school, got interviewed by a Chinese news crew and even made it on the nightly news!

Our whirlwind tour then took us to Hong Kong. Since we had the weekend off, instead of catching up on sleep, we braved the 90 degree heat and took a glass bottom cable car up, up, up, into the mountains to visit the big Buddha. The next day we had the Chinese good fortune of attending the annual famous Dragon Boat Festival on Stanley island. We spent the day supporting the Esquel Dragon Boat team and beating the heat in the free beer tent.

During our last days in China, we spent time at Hong Kong Polytech University where we gave a seminar talk and met with teachers, industry leaders and students who are helping create Bluetooth Low Energy components on App Inventor. A highlight of the trip was visiting City University, touring their App Labs and talking with students about their experiences using App Inventor. (City U photo credits, Ray Cheung)

No blog post about China would be complete without mentioning… the endless courses of food!
We didn’t experience death by Chinese banquet, but almost!!