Android App Development Using Visual Programming: First workshop, Thailand

The first workshop on “Android App Development Using Visual Programming” was held at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (STOU), Thailand on the 14th and 15th of August 2014. The objectives of the workshop were to (i) familiarize STOU staff with the AI2 platform; (ii) use the Designer and Blocks Editor; (iii) implement various components in applications; (iv) design rich user experiences (UX); and (v) practice packaging and distribution of applications.

Traditionally, Android App development is a highly specialized field reserved only for software engineers and programmers. However, the massive demand for customized apps has lead to the democratization of Android app development through the concept of ‘Visual programming’. Visual Programming is a concept which allows both programmers and non-programmers to build powerful application using logical building blocks. It can best be explained as constructing a jigsaw puzzle using fitting virtual puzzle pieces. Each of these puzzle pieces are blocks of code which form complete programs when assembled logically. The leading visual app development platform, at present, is the App Inventor (AI2) platform developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of the US. It has joined forces with Google to provide a robust solution for customized app development for the Android OS.

The two day hands-on workshop, organized by the International Affairs Unit and the Office of Computer Services of STOU, was tailored to two different groups. The first group consisted of experience programmers and the second group of non-programmers. The experienced programmers’ group underwent intermediate training on the AI2 platform whereas the non-programmers were introduced to the basic concepts. Among the topics covered were introduction to AI2 platform; device setup; debugging apps using physical phones and Android emulator; building apps using components such as text-to-speech, accelerometer, speech recognition, canvas, sprite, camera, camcorder, video player, audio player etc.; packaging and distributing apps; and publishing apps on Google Play.

The participants developed approximately 13 apps which provided them a wide range of skills in user experience (UX) design and programming logic. The workshop also had three full length tutorial exercises where participants built three fully functional apps which concentrated on (i) designing user interfaces; (ii) designing user experiences; and (iii) fundamentals of animation and game design. Ishan Abeywardena, the trainer, further demonstrated how a storyboard is created prior to designing and developing a functional Android App. The two groups consisted of around 35 participants each with varied professional backgrounds ranging from academic faculty, instructional designers to software engineers.

The next workshop will be held on the 31st of October and 1st of November in Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR as a post-conference workshop of the 28th Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU) annual conference. This workshop is organized by the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK). More details about the workshop can be found at Ishan Abeywardena is currently exploring the possibility of conducting the workshop in the Sinhalese language in Sri Lanka to benefit the local community.


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