Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What is an app?

In the Mobile Game Design and Mobile App Design categories of the NFTE World Series of Innovation students are asked to design an app or a game for a mobile device such as an Windows Phone. But what do an “app” mean in that context?  The meaning of words changes over time. I hear that the word “awful” used to mean the same thing as “awesome” but over time awful was used so often in a sarcastic way that the meaning changed. Seems plausible – true or not. A word today that seems to also be changing meaning is “app.” In general it is a short form of the word “application” as you can see in this partial definition from WikipediaApplication software, also known as an application or an "app", is computer software designed to help the user to perform specific tasks. ” Increasingly though the word app is used as a short form of “mobile application” or “mobile app.” That’s a nuanced meaning to some but I think “app” is starting to have a narrower more specific usage than a short form for the more general term “application.” If I had to define it I might say something like “a small application with a simple to use user interface for performing one or more closely related activities. Generally on a mobile computing device.”

What we are talking about for the NFTE World Series of Innovation are small application not some huge monolithic application like one would add memory to their high powered desktop to run.

NFTE is proud to have Microsoft as the presenting sponsor of the World Series of Innovation. Microsoft is issuing a challenge for students to create mobile phone apps and games that raise awareness and provide solutions for common student and school issues. Microsoft will provide the winning teams with a development partner to take the idea and bring it to market.

The other thing about apps is  that they tend to be personal. By that I mean they are designed to be useful for individuals. Apps help people find their way, help them get information from online sources, and in short help them solve personal problems. Here are some sample ideas for apps from the NFTE World Series Toolkit that teachers receive after registering:

  • Helping new students find their way around a school
  • Making friends and building the school community
  • Managing school and class schedules
  • Dealing with bullying
  • Improving the school grounds (cleaning it, building new features)
  • Improving school safety
  • Helping students and schools protect and improve the environment
  • Help students get and stay healthy
  • Simple learning games—helping students learn subjects (math, geography, science, history)

Here is an example of a simple app that students might want to create (or use themselves!)

Nearly every school publishes a handbook, and most have web sites that contain important information, such as school directory, maps, class information, athletics,
latest news, and other details that are important to students. When people aren’t at a computer, however, it’s often difficult to get this information. In addition,
school administration and faculty need a quick, centralized way to get new information out to students and parents.

MySchoolApp is a Windows Phone app that provides school information to students and parents, such as news, school events, important links, faculty
directory, and school maps. School administrators can publish information and notifications via the app as easily as updating their school web site.
Windows Phone users can download the version for Bentley University here: http://bit.ly/nftebentley

MySchoolApp gives you access to school news, faculty directory, school calendar, maps, sports, alerts, and notifications—right from your smartphone! It’s great
for students and parents, as they can get the information anytime and anyplace, and it’s great for schools as it will help them communicate information quickly
and efficiently.

It’s simple, handy (a lot easier to carry as part of your phone than a hard copy paper book), and useful with timely information. What sorts of apps can your students design? The NFTE World Series of Innovation encourages that with the possibility of having the winning design turned into a real app for use by students everywhere.

Some additional links that may be useful:

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