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Lessons from mobile interfaces class

I just turned in grades for my 5-week mobile interfaces class–CSCI 4830/7000–a cross-listed undergrad/grad course offered during the “Summer B” term at UC-Boulder. It counted as a full 3-credit class, but it was crammed into 3 hours a day, 3 days a week–whew! Some thoughts I want to capture:

– Big thanks to Google for supplying the hardware we used in the class through their University Consortium program. Google is following the path to success that Microsoft followed in the 1980s and 1990s–lots of free stuff for universities to aid in teaching, with the payoff of knowledge and experience with their products and software when students graduate. More broadly, they are doing better than Microsoft of old in that they are providing lots of forums and development environments for free. Ironically, Microsoft has turned into Apple (and Apple has remained Apple-like) when it comes to their mobile platform, with a more closed platform and few/no inexpensive hardware options…and it doesn’t seem to be turning out well for them.
– Not sure if any course is a great fit for such a compressed time period, but mobile interfaces (with a programming emphasis) is better than most: lots of small projects that are individually useful but (if the prof does a good job) collectively meaningful. That’s a great side effect of the current state of things in mobile platforms: small standalone apps are in demand, so you can do something meaningful in a short period of time.
– Projects are nice, but big group projects in a summer class don’t make much sense. Doing it in the future in a month or less? Ditch the group project, or make it an extended/expanded homework.
– I like encouraging/requiring the students to publish to the Marketplace, though again 5 weeks is a tight turnaround. But my current thought is to keep it. It was great to look back and see the success that DeMarcus had with his tip calculator app–1000+ downloads, most still active–and we’ll see if anyone from the summer group can replicate that success.
– I liked having an assignment for which students presented on their favorite platforms. It was good to learn about Blackberry and iPad–but the Magic Cap presentation provided an interesting historical perspective on the development of mobile interfaces and allowed us to compare past and future. I’d be tempted to do more platform presentations (perhaps requiring every group to do a historically important platform and a modern one).
– Amateurs don’t write reusable claims about the apps they develop…and why should they? It’s hard to capture the key design lessons in a way that others will be able to learn from it. It’s a classic CSCW problem: there’s not much benefit for the person writing the claim, even if (big if) there is benefit for people reading them down the road. We need a claims goddess to polish them up and make them presentable!
– It was good to have the grad/undergrad mix, though there needs to be more mixing. The grad students should do some programming, maybe with App Inventor or Droid Draw, to understand better the challenges. The undergrads should do more writing, to encourage them to reflect on their programming.
– Avoid professional paper format for written submissions–the papers won’t be published in anything resembling the form in which they are turned in. And professional paper formats are tough to read, IMO.

Next up: a Maymester offering? Or a cross-listed semester-long offering at VT?

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