Friday, September 2

Google’s App Inventor … liberation or stagnation?

app-inventor A year ago, Google released App Inventor – a fascinatingly visual, albeit rather buggy tool for developing android apps. Although not robust enough for our commercial development, we loved the fresh ideas about interface, and app building. Perfect tools for learning about coding. Today I found an email in my inbox announcing that Google are dropping support for it.

Google are open-sourcing the code base. Often a sign of a project’s demise. Sounds like bad news for education … or is it?

Here are the key excerpts from the email:

Dear App Inventor User,
As a result of the recent changes to Google Labs and App Inventor, effective immediately, the URL for App Inventor will change from appinventor.googlelabs.com to appinventorbeta.com. …
… Google will end support for App Inventor and open source the code base at the end of this year. Additionally, in order to ensure the future success of App Inventor, Google has funded the establishment of a Center for Mobile Learning at the MIT Media Lab, where MIT will be actively engaged in studying and extending App Inventor. This transition will happen at the end of 2011. …
… Please visit the App Inventor user forums to get future updates on App Inventor.
The App Inventor Team

What do you think? Despite my initial dismay, this might work out well for future learners. Why?

  1. Funding for a new Centre for Mobile Learning at MIT?
    Awesome news! See this google blog post from Hal Ableson, the prof who will be running it
    Blocks Editor screen
  2. New injection of energy for the constructionist theories of learning.
    The Blocks Editor is an innovative metaphor for building code, based on long standing foundation blocks started by Seymour Papert in the 60’s. (Logo, Lego Mindstorms, etc). For the uninitiated, the idea is to use programming as a vehicle for engaging powerful ideas through active learning.
  3. MIT is the perfect home for App Inventor.
    The Blocks Editor uses MIT libraries, created by MIT researchers. Most of the current best thinking, and many of the most innovative thinkers, AND technology tools that weave together constructivist learning and programming have an MIT connection. (STEP, StarLogo TNG, StarLogo, Scratch, Logo etc)

So – while saddened by the implication that there will be less Google financial investment in it, I cannot think of a better new home for what seems to be a powerful tool for learners.

Long may App Inventor live as a tool for learners, and good luck to Hal and his new Mobile Learning Centre!

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