When more than 100,000 Formula One fans hit Austin this fall, many might download a handy iPhone app that showcases related parties and events. They then might check out Austin-area news specific to their location or get distracted by a fun app that lets them arrange their friends’ Facebook photos from the race week in an interactive collage. All of these mobile apps could be built by students in a new journalism course at the University of Texas at Austin.
Students pitched these ideas in a new iPhone app development course I’m facilitating with Austin developer and entrepreneur Joshua McClure. Notice that I didn’t say “teaching.” Although we are the instructors, it’s the 13 journalism and 13 computer science students who must find their way in relatively uncharted waters.
The class (syllabus) has five teams of students, and each team is going to attempt to get an app into the Apple App Store by the end of this semester. The students came up with their product ideas and pitched them on the first week of class. They are setting goals for our first “sprint” - a roughly two-week period during which they will follow the agile development method of biting off small chunks of work. The students are mapping the difficulty of the work that is ahead of them.
We are guiding them, answering their questions, helping them focus their ideas — and learning along with them. We’re trying to avoid saying “no.” The students don’t know what’s impossible, and that’s exhilarating.
McClure, a former Air Force captain who is no stranger to the many challenges and successes of the mobile development world, says he’s impressed with what the students have done in just one week. I am, too.
I will update the progress of the students, but it will be better to get the updates from them. Considering this is a journalism course (the computer science students are getting upper-level CS credit), the teams will be publishing plenty of information about their work and products. They will be creating social media plans, blogging, creating videos and shooting photos. Journalism students will do some of the product coding, and the computer science students will do some of the teams’ communications.
The computer science students’ homework consists of journalistic reading and exercises. The journalism students have to complete challenging assignments from an Objective C textbook. Everyone is going to be uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing.
In the end, how good will a student look who not only has a degree but has an app in the App Store? How about a student who can not only program but communicate?
This is all great fun for me, McClure and our fantastic TA Lewis Knight. The media industry and the education system that produces its next wave of employees both must adapt or die. The UT School of Journalism is doing its part with a new curriculum that includes courses in entrepreneurial journalism, data visualization, multimedia newsroom reporting and social media. I joined the faculty at the UT School of Journalism because I wanted to be a part of that change. It’s exciting to see it coming together.
The brave students who are trying this new course in its inaugural semester are enthusiastically moving ahead as well. I can’t wait to see what they do next.