App Authors Project expands its reach, bringing coding to kids at new sites

App Authors- student coding at computer

The App Authors project has been underway for over a year now, bringing kids and technology together to create apps through a child-centered curriculum at Kenwood Elementary and the Douglass Branch of the Champaign Public Library. The program, developed by the iSchool's Center for Children's Books (CCB), provides kids with varying levels of experience the opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. App Authors is now expanding its reach, working at sites in Maryland and Oregon as well as remaining in Champaign. 

"We're excited about expanding our reach this year," said Deborah Stevenson, PI of the project and director of the CCB. "Our partnerships with the Frederick County Public Libraries in Maryland and the Springfield Public Library in Oregon will allow our curriculum to serve more youth, and input from these partners will help us refine and improve our curriculum for the future."

The Douglass Branch Library will again offer its summer session of the program, this year from June 5 to July 21, with a showcase session on July 27. CCB volunteers and research assistants will be on hand to help participants move from predesign to construction of the apps and through the revision process. The curriculum focuses on the play aspect of building apps, using the kids’ own ideas (i.e. a jumping horse, school day, nail salon, etc.) as a springboard for their creations and then teaching the students the technical skills to turn their visions into successful apps.

"The process of creation and revision are as much, if not more, important than the final product. Our goal is to communicate to the kids that coding is not necessarily about the finished app. We try to emphasize the notion that the creative process is not a straight line but one that includes visits back to the drawing board and lots of modifications," said MS student Lauren Gray, who led the curriculum development and on-site sessions this year. 

This is the second phase of the CCB's Closing the App Gap three-year project, which addresses the app gap, the income-related disparity in young people’s access to handheld technology. The project is developing curricula for app-building in school and public libraries and will repeat the program at the above mentioned sites as well as expand to two to five new library venues. This expansion will allow the CCB to reach hundreds of children directly and refine a program that other libraries can adopt for their own use. 

The project is funded through a $248,205 grant from Institute of Museum and Library Services. Co-PIs include Associate Professor Kate McDowell and Assistant Professor Rachel Magee. 

To learn more, visit the App Authors site.