Dr. Michelle Liu, assistant professor of Information Technology, teaches
Inventing Your Own Mobile Apps, a section of a DISCOVER 101 freshman seminar.
In her class, freshmen come up with ideas for mobile apps, and then build them.
Q. Is a class like this too difficult for many freshmen?
A. Not at all! This is a techie class for non-techies. The App Inventor we use is a visual programming environment that doesn’t require any programming background. It is easy enough to learn in a short period, but also sophisticated enough to allow the students to create a fully functioning mobile app. It is a great pathway to broaden participation in computing science among all students.
Q. What are some of the coolest ideas for an app that your students have come up with?
A. I’m amazed at how incredibly inventive my students are, even the ones who are not techies. One student created a simple, but fun, educational app called Zoo Show (see inset box) to let young children who can’t go to an actual zoo experience such a visit virtually. In the app, you click a button with the animal name to see its picture and hear the sound it makes.
Q. How did you become interested in information technology?
A. I have always been fascinated by how technology and innovation impact our daily lives. My research interests are in the areas of design, enterprise architecture, and the uses and impacts of emerging technologies on social activities and behaviors.
Q. Comparing your freshman students to yourself when you were a freshman, what do you think are the biggest differences?
A. My freshman students are always connected to a mobile phone or other digital device. My course takes their natural interest and applies it to what could become a career for many of them.
Freshman Dalton Royal, a mathematics major from Roanoke, VA, had never built an app before taking Dr. Liu’s course. The app he invented, Zoo Show, is one of the most popular in the class. He says, “I’m new at programming. The program we use in class is somewhat automatic, but you really have to think things through. I’m learning new stuff and I enjoy it. I even helped a classmate figure out his own app.”