AppInventor Awarded Funding To Democratize Computing
AppInventor Awarded Funding To Democratize Computing
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 07 April 2013

David Wolber and the University of  San Francisco have been awarded a grant to launch the Democratize Computing Lab, an initiative to radically broaden and diversify the pool of software creators using App Inventor for Android.

App Inventor is a visual programming language designed specifically for beginners. It allows you to create mobile apps for phones and tablets using visual blocks:




If you want a quick programmer's introduction App Inventor see Getting started with MIT App Inventor.

If you've been following the story of AppInventor you'll know that it started as a Google project when its creator Hal Abelson took a two-year sabbatical from MIT to create a mobile programming language together with five Googlers. When Google decided to drop App Inventor as part of its closure of Google Labs, the project was  open sourced and handed over to MIT with some funding  for the MIT Center for Mobile Learning, part of the MIT Media Lab.

David Wolber is a professor of Computer Science at USF (the University of  San Francisco) who began teaching App Inventor as part of Google's 2009 pilot program and is the lead author of App Inventor: Create Your Own Android App. 




The new funding of $200,000 comes from the W. M. Keck Foundation adds to a previous TUES (Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM) grant from the NSF (National Science Foundation). These funds have lead to the formation of the Democratize Computing Lab with Wolber as its director.




According to its website:

The Lab's mission is to to break down the "programmer divide", and radically broaden and diversify the pool of software creators [by introducing programming] 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.

The lab focuses on three activities all related to App Inventor:

  • Teaching Programming In addition to Wolber's book and its accompanying on-line course, a key focus of the lab is the further development of these teaching materials, in pa\rticular Course-in-a-box to help educators launch their own courses.

  • Developing App Inventor in conjunction with the MIT Center for Mobile Learning. 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.

  • Community Outreach Working with youth groups in the community to help facilitate after-school initiatives involving mobile programming.

App Inventor deserves to be better known and appreciated, both in education and within the developer community where it has a role for rapid prototyping. It's fun and by providing quick results it provides an introduction to computer science that avoids the steep learning curve of traditional approaches.

If you want to see proof of how much can be achieved with App Inventor see the winning submissions from the recent App Inventor Contest, organized at the end of last year by David Wolber, which are now on show in the App Inventor Gallery.

One problem that App Inventor faces, however, is fragmentation. The MIT App Inventor site is still in beta and hands you over to the App inventor Community Gallery and there seem to be no links between these MIT sites and David Wolber's, which is where you'll find loads of tutorials and Course-In-A-Box. Here's the introductory video for the site which as you can see is in many ways the site for David Wolber's book:



And now we have the USF's Democratize Computing Lab - a site which may be an umbrella for all the App Inventor resources but doesn't even have "App Inventor" in its url!



More Information

Democratize Computing Lab (David Wolber's site)

MIT App Inventor site

MIT Center for Mobile Learning

MIT's App Inventor Edu site

Related Articles

App Inventor: Create Your Own Android Apps (book review)

App Inventor Returns to MIT

Getting started with MIT App Inventor

Let's Teach Kids To Code!


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