It’s no secret that mobile application (i.e. app) development is one of the hottest areas of technology growth these days. App vendors are giving tablet and smartphone owners new ways to use their devices every day. According to the latest research from Forrester, the mobile app market will grow from $6 billion today to more than $55 billion in 2016. More than half of business decision-makers will increase their mobile apps budget in 2012, the report says.
So who’s developing all of this new technology? If you’re interested in how organizations can make better use of tablets at work or school to enhance productivity, then you’ll be interested to know about initiatives to help students in both high school and college learn these skills.
According to a survey of American teenagers conducted in December 2011 by Omnibus, 80% would be interested in learning how to create their own mobile app and 22% think mobile app development will be an important skill to have when they enter the workforce.
But let’s take a step back for a minute for some additional context. A few weeks ago at the second annual White House Science Fair, President Obama took the opportunity to stress the importance of education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
This is not the first time that we’ve heard about STEM education from our government leaders. Internationally, there are similar efforts driving science and mathematics education globally. In addition to the public sector support, many organizations and companies have developed programs and initiatives to promote STEM education.
However, despite all this emphasis on promoting STEM, student interest in these subjects in the U.S. still lags behind many others. For the most part, I think this is the result of initiatives and strategies that fail to address two major flaws in the way we educate students around these fields.
As a former mathematics teacher, I can say that I think there’s often a significant disconnect between the material that’s actually taught in schools in these fields and the actual application. Throughout my career I always found it a struggle to reconcile the particular math skills and concepts emphasized in schools with the math that I truly love.
Put another way: Too often we teach mathematics like a TV cooking show. Just like the recipes on the show, we give our students scripted problems. Students are graded on the accuracy of execution. Yet when home cooks—or math students—look into their “pantry,” they have no idea how to improvise and solve the challenge ahead.
My second concern is that in education, we tend to silo STEM topics away from other topics that depend so heavily on them. Students will never fully be able to appreciate the value that STEM has in our society if they see each discipline in isolation, or at best interacting with one another but rarely outside of the STEM fields.
The reality is that virtually every field of endeavor in society today relies heavily on the contributions of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Thus any attempt to improve the standing of these fields in education must rely heavily on authentically integrating these topics into a broader curriculum.
So let’s bring this back to mobile apps and tablets. Clearly it’s important for students to get a strong education in STEM topics so they can take advantage of the opportunities available in this burgeoning industry.
Lenovo recently launched a new initiative in partnership with the National Academy Foundation to teach high schoolers mobile app development. The program is built around the concept of developing a mobile app and bringing it to market. Five schools are piloting the program, including Apex High School’s Academy of Information Technology in Apex, N.C.
This multidisciplinary, project-based course is intended to develop entrepreneurship, marketing, collaboration and technical skills. Thus in addition to the obvious emphasis on technology skills, the program has components that seek to address the issues related to contextual, applied learning and multi-disciplinary education.
Hopefully, this opportunity will drive more interest in STEM-related fields by ensuring that the activity is not scripted with a predetermined outcome and that the project also requires students to participate more collaboratively with their partners in integrating entrepreneurial and business tactics in their solutions. And, hopefully it will result in exciting, game-changing apps to help us all be more productive.
Image Courtesy: WRAL