At Google Research, we are making it easy to build mobile applications, and we're collaborating with faculty from a dozen colleges and universities to explore whether this could change the nature of introductory computing. With the support of Google University Relations, the faculty group will work together this fall to pilot courses where beginning students, including non-computer science majors, create Android applications that incorporate social networking, location awareness, and Web-based data collections.

Mobile applications are triggering a fundamental shift in the way people experience computing and use mobile phones. Ten years ago, people "went to the computer" to perform tasks and access the Internet, and they used a cell phone only to make calls. Today, smartphones let us carry computing with us, have become central to servicing our communication and information needs, and have made the web part of all that we do. Ten years ago, people's use of computing was largely dissociated from real life. With the ubiquity of social networking, online and offline life are becoming fused. This fall's exploration is motivated by the vision that open mobile platforms like Android can bring some of that same change to introductory Computer Science, to make it more about people and their interactions with others and with the world around them. It's a vision where young people—and everyone—can engage the world of mobile services and applications as creators, not just consumers. Through this work, we hope to do the following:

  • Make mobile application development accessible to anyone.
  • Enhance introductory learning experiences in computing through the vehicle of Android’s open platform.
  • Encourage a community of faculty and students to share material and ideas for teaching and exploring.

The collaborative experiment kicked off with a three-day workshop at Google's Mountain View campus in June, where invited faculty shared their plans for the courses they will offer this fall. The group also got an advance look at App Inventor for Android, the prototype development platform that Google is working on and that the faculty and their students will use in their courses. App Inventor for Android lets people assemble Android applications by arranging "components" using a graphical drag-and-drop-interface. One of the goals of the fall experiment is to further shape the system in response to the experience and feedback of students and faculty.

The schools participating in this fall's collaboration are Ball State University, University of Colorado Boulder, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Indiana University, Mills College, MIT, Olin College, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Queensland, University of San Francisco, and Wellesley College.

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