In a world where software increasingly pervades various layers of our lives, there is growing recognition that we need to make a leap from merely knowing how to work a computer or software, to understanding how it works and possessing the skills to make it work for us.

 

Despite this realisation, there is a gaping talent shortage. Locally, a survey conducted by a human resources consulting firm indicated that 40% of Hong Kong mobile application developers have been forced to seek technical talent abroad. Professor Christopher Keyes of the Music Department at HKBU and Project Leader of Apps Resource Centre says, "When we were building apps at our Resource Centre for Ubiquitous Learning & Integrated Pedagogy (ULIP), the predecessor of this project, we saw first-hand how those trained in programming, like Computer Science and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students often lack design thinking. On the other hand, those strong in design tend to lack coding knowledge."

Well-rounded education

The newly opened Apps Resource Centre (ARC) bridges the talent gap by offering cross-domain learning experiences that include computer programming, especially for liberal arts students, and graphic and visual design especially for STEM students, and where appropriate these are combined with entrepreneurial and service-learning. 

It is anticipated that a premium will increasingly be placed on skills such as logical thinking and problem solving as well as the ability to turn ideas into functioning systems – skills fostered by programming— but 15 plus years of experience in writing educational software has taught Professor Keyes that this is only part of the story. "For educational software, I found that success and failure often depends as much on design and pedagogical implementation as content and functionality… we don't want them to merely create apps, we want them to create quality apps!"

To help students do this, ARC has a dedicated ProApps team comprising an iOS developer, an Android developer, a graphics and game designer at their Centre in ACC 210C of the University's Jockey Club Academic Community Centre. In this non-threatening, studio-based, "freedom-to-fail" learning environment, students can exchange ideas with students from vastly different disciplines and in roughly two to six weeks, be able to learn enough to build a basic app. "These apps could be for use as final projects for existing courses, or for aspiring entrepreneurs to meet a market need, or to solve real-life problems. In fact, our Global Outreach team will engage the community to pair their needs to student app makers for a range of service-learning projects."

Expanding upon ULIP's success

While the ProApps team will continue to serve faculty by building educational apps to target specific pedagogical problems, there will be a pivot towards students. Not only will students enjoy unprecedented access and guidance from App Ambassadors and the ProApps team, they will also be able to work side-by-side with these experienced professionals on larger projects in the role of student helpers. 

Going forward, ARC aims to benefit students as well as the academic community by transferring best practice, encouraging scholarly exchange and promoting apps as a new approach to learning. It will organise field trips as well as international guest lectures and workshops on various app-related topics to build upon co-curricular non-credit-bearing activities. In addition to partnering with Hong Kong universities, NGOs and government agencies, ARC will work with overseas universities such as Griffith University in Australia, MIT and Stanford University in USA.

ARC could be part of a pioneering force that contributes to society's transition from passive consumers of content to active producers. "Ultimately, our goal for this three-year UGC-funded project is to foster a new generation of students who have a combination of skills that few of their current generation of lecturers possess, enabling them to find innovative solutions to problems few of us are able to imagine."

ARC homepage: http://eduapps.hkbu.edu.hk/index.html