Sunday soapbox: knowledge isn’t the only gap

Two days ago I suggested that even people who won’t be professional programmers may benefit from being able to create something like a website or mobile app for their own business or personal use. The case study I gave  computer science professor Paul Pauca, who, along with some of his students, created an iPad application to help his son, diagnosed as a toddler with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, communicate with his family and therapists. They shared it in the Apple app store, and a year later, 1100 copies had been downloaded.

It’s fantastic that hundreds of families were able to benefit from the work they did, especially given the typical prices of standalone augmented/assisted communication devices. But I can’t help but wonder: what if you didn’t have to wait for a team of students working on expensive degrees? What if a member of each of those hundreds of families had the tools to create their own application, tailored to their own child’s unique needs?

Reality check, though: even if we open up who has the software knowledge, we’ve still got to keep an eye on who has access to the hardware, something Pauca himself comments on here (with apologies for headline’s lack of persons-first language).

Last weekend I went to a seminar about AppInventor, where groups of teenage students worked through introductory tutorials while other teachers and I had a crash course in the software and a conversation about how to teach it to students. I spent the rest of the day swapping emails with a young teacher friend about her mental prototypes for apps she wishes she had for using in her (1:1 iPad) classroom. As I dug around for things that might be potentially useful to her, Android app designs from the morning rattling around in my head, I stumbled into this. The part that got me:

At Apple, we see the results of…inequality every day. Minorities are significantly underrepresented in the technology industry. We want to do our part to change this. We want to open the vast potential of all the world’s future inventors, future dreamers, and future leaders.

I’m frustrated because that doesn’t match up with my experience of the ed/tech world. I got jazzed watching high school kids get jazzed about creating apps…and then realized that being able to write and then use your own apps is a long way off because the iPad has the school technology market so thoroughly dominated. Saying that you want to open up the world to inventors does not jive with a development process that requires an Apple device and the ability to pay a $99 registration fee only to wait through an uncertain review period. I understand that the security that comes from keeping out third-party apps is a huge part of the draw for schools…but surely there has to be some middle ground.