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Navarrow Wright

Navarrow Wright

Posted: July 20, 2010 02:40 PM

What Google's Do-It-Yourself App Creation Software Can Do To Teach Inner City Youth About Software Development

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I remember when I first started to get excited about technology. From the moment I realized what I could create and how it could affect other people, I was hooked. But as the Internet and technology have become more and more a part of mainstream culture, I have not seen that excitement reach the inner cities and minority youth show the excitement in what can be created these days with technology and how they can be a part of it. I believe there are several factors that play in to this from the quality of education these days to the lack of access to broadband. All of these factors culminate in a lack of interest to learn the tools and false sense of a high barrier to entry that keeps urban youth away. I constantly try to think of ways to demystify these assumptions and get more kids playing with technology and creating things. So I was excited to see the launch of Google's Do-It-Yourself app creation software. Not only does it allow more people without the technical chops to build an app to get their ideas off the ground, it also provides a great training-ground to show youth the power of technology creation. For people who may not know what this is all about you can read about it here. But basically, it is an application developed at Google by a team led by Harold Abelson, a computer scientist from MIT. The program is aimed at simplifying the programming of basic apps on the android platform.

"The Google project, Mr. Abelson said, is intended to give users, especially young people, a simple tool to let them tinker with Smartphone software, much as people have done with computers. Over the years, he noted, simplified programming tools like Basic, Logo and Scratch have opened the door to innovations of all kinds. Microsoft's first product, for example, was a version of Basic, pared down to run on personal computers."

After reading this article you can clearly see that there is promise in this tool. Being able to just drag and drop elements onto the screen and then see your app "work" is more than enough to spark the interest of young people. My fear is that a large portion of the inner city youth will never even know about this tool. Even though the latest Pew study shows that African American and Hispanics are the fastest growing segments in terms of cell phone usage but they are also among the lowest when it comes to broadband adoption in the home. This sets the stage for them to great consumers of the products that come from this tool without knowing the opportunities for creation that are avail to them. With those numbers being the case I believe there are few things that can be done to use this tool to introduce software development to inner city children.

  • Teach it in schools: I'm sure in true Google fashion that this tool will remain free so it's should be easy for computer teachers to learn it themselves and then introduce to their students in the fall.
  • Make it available in libraries: All the libraries around me are cutting services due to budget cuts. This is a workshop they could offer using existing equipment and also give kids without Internet access a place to spend real time with it.
  • Let the nonprofit world know about it: There are some great non-profits that are doing great work in digital literacy like Computers for Youth. If they are made aware of this tool I'm sure they would be eager to add this to their offerings.
  • Step up and Spread the word ourselves: The audience of this site is made up of technology thought leaders and scores of digitally literate people. If we each took it upon ourselves to make five inner city children aware of this tool, it would immediately make an impact.

This tool will no doubt have significant impact in the future. Let's put the work in to make sure in has impact in some places that desperately need it.


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