Relevant and Real World Computing in the UK

In August 2011, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Computer Society asked Jeremy Scott to exemplify the teaching of Computing Science to Scotland’s junior high school students. Here’s his App Inventor story…

For over twenty years, desktop operating systems were the basis of most students’ experience of Computing. Today’s learners have a different experience of Computing: it’s on-line, social and increasingly mobile. Computing devices have become more tactile and personal, the result of convergence of numerous technologies from multi-touch to motion-sensing and GPS.

During the research phase of my project, it became clear that App Inventor offered a way to tap into these developments and provide students with an experience of Computing Science that’s not only fun and exciting, but real world. It’s even possible – with a bit of effort – to get students’ apps on the Android Marketplace. Wow!

So, with help from Professors Dave Wolber of University of San Francisco and Hal Abelson of MIT, I blended aspects of the App Inventor EDU course with my own ideas to create a mobile app development course that I believe delivers Computing Science in a way that’s up-to-date and relevant to students’ own digital lives.

Dave Wolber was absolutely right when he said to me: “Mobile app development is this crazy motivator for students!”, as the feedback from schools piloting the course was overwhelmingly positive.

Here’s the experience of Peter Donaldson, Head of Computing Science at Crieff High School in Perthshire:

I delivered mobile app development to a class of 14-year-old students over a period of 6 weeks. Some setup work was required to install App Inventor and the mobile phone drivers but after that there were no major technical problems. Setup was also well-documented on the App Inventor website. A word of caution: the emulator’s great, but it can only test some parts of an application, so you’ll want real handsets to test some phone-specific features. We found that one handset between four students was a good ratio. The pupils fully engaged with the activities and I didn’t have to give a single warning for low level disruption to anyone throughout the trial period. Screencasts worked well for providing further individual support and for absent students to catch up, but shouldn’t replace class demonstration and questioning.
At the end of the trial, I asked my students for feedback. Here’s what they said:

App Inventor lets you bring mobile app development into the classroom. It’s free. It’s easy to use. Students latch onto it like you won’t believe.

What are you waiting for?

Jeremy Scott is Head of Computing Science at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, Scotland

Access the "I Love My Smartphone" course materials on the RSE website