App building class turns students into developers

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Media Monday

This semester, more than 20 journalism and computer science students entered senior journalism lecturer Robert Quigley’s new Mobile News App Design class. All of them will leave the class as developers, with an app either already in the Apple App Store or on its way.

The class represents an ongoing trend for journalists: the need to become a jack of all trades. In the class, computer science and journalism students were grouped into five different teams. This wasn’t a class students could just register for — they had to apply to prove both their worth and interest. Once accepted into the class, students were paired up and immediately sent to work on their apps. They had to have an app ready to pitch by the second class day, and then they immediately began developing it.

“It’s not just coding or journalism,” Quigley said. “It’s also about design, it’s learning how an app works and the optimal ways to get to an end product. There is a lot of little parts to this that they had to learn as they went.”

Students with no prior Objective-C coding experience had to learn as they went. Objective-C is a coding language that is used by Apple in their iOS apps. Journalism students and computer science students, groups of people with different college experiences, had to mesh together. This past weekend, in the class’s conclusion, the five different teams presented and pitched their apps to journalists and entrepreneurs at a demo day. 

Of the five apps, “Glos Guide for Journalists,” an app that gives journalists a quick and easy style guide to use along with tips from journalism professors, was the only one that made it to Apple’s app store in time for the demo day. The app also won “Best Overall App” at the event.

“We brainstormed together and we were thinking ‘What do journalists need?’” said Jessica Schwartz, multimedia journalism senior and a member of the “Glos” development team. “If you’re looking on the app store, there isn’t anything that has style and tips.”

The group, composed of two journalism students and four computer science students, met an average of four times per week, once in class and three times outside of class.

Two other teams have submitted their apps to the store, and the last two teams hope to do so soon. “Pxljam,” a music oriented photo sharing app, and “Nerv,” a location-conscious news app, both submitted in the week before the demo day. “PicBook,” an iPad scrapbooking app, and “Prix Party,” a Formula One event app, hope to submit their apps to the store soon.

Several students and Quigley himself said a problem the class faced was students entering the class with a lack of coding and Objective-C background. Next semester, the journalism school is offering an introductory mobile programming class. The class won’t be a prerequisite for Quigley’s class, but it will provide students who may be interested in the class with some coding foundations. Joshua McClure, who co-taught the app class this semester, will teach the intro class.

McClure said he sees the app building class is becoming more common.

“I think the trend is toward the route of having work-prep classes,” McClure said. “What these kids did was taught themselves. We gave them guidance, but they did it themselves.”

As far as the experience of building an app, Quigley said he does not think it is necessarily something every journalist needs. But he did say every journalist should have some basic coding knowledge, and knowing how to build an app is certainly something that will help when it comes to job searches.

This is one of the reason Scwhartz and her fellow “Glos” team members took the class.

“Everything is online, everything is on your phone,” Schwartz said. “To be able to not only write news from your phone, but make an app that [aids] that is really useful ... I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.”