When I was in high school (many, many, smartphone-less-years ago) we were lucky to receive a remedial course in web page design. The opportunities to enhance our education through technology were far and few between, and rote learning from dusty textbooks was still the pedagogical piece de resistance of the public school curriculum. So it was with great satisfaction and amazement that I attended the Technovation Challenge National Pitch Night this Saturday presented by Iridescent at Google headquarters in Mountain View.
The Technovation Challenge is a new program started by Iridescent, an educational non-profit in Los Angeles. The program was designed to help young women think and act like entrepreneurs in a “start-up company.” Over nine weeks, these girls participated in a program that helped them create mobile phone app prototypes. Using App Inventor for Android, they formed teams and joined forces with female mentors from the business and academic communities.
As I sat and watched these confident finalists present their prototypes I thought about the future landscape of education. What a wonderful heuristic experience! Not only does it engage women’s interest in technology, it is an entire cognitive, experiential and holistic way to gain valuable programming and entrepreneurial skills. This sort of immersive learning, where students are working in groups, using technology, postulating and receiving feedback,while facilitated by a mentor is a glimpse of where education should be heading. And as mobile technologies become an accepted part of formal education, these types of programs will become a necessity.
There were six teams competing at the national finals, and each team presented their app prototype to a team of judges for evaluation. They had to think about what utility their app would serve, what costs and marketing issues existed as well as think about potential competitors and their solutions to the competition. They also had to answer some tough questions from the judges.
For the most part, these innovators had designed app prototypes that offered technological solutions to problems that existed in their high school-centered lives: electronic flash cards, a social events app for high school kids, a “fashion guru” to help you coordinate your outfits, and a way for parents to track their kids via smartphone. Another team took the frustrating task of trying to hail a cab in New York City and offered a digital explication.
In my opinion all the teams were winners that night, but the official grand prize winner, who will have the chance to develop their app for the Android Market, was team Sparkling APPles with their I.O.U. app. Their design helps you keep track of things you’ve lent your friends and the items you’ve borrowed from them. Where was this app twenty years ago when I let my buddy borrow my Millennium Falcon for the weekend?
Technovation Challenge founder, Dr. Anuranjita Tewary, and Iridescent’s CEO Tara Chklovski have done a wonderful job creating a program that promotes women in technology. It should serve as an educational model for traditional curriculums where teachers and students find themselves struggling to keep up with technological advancements. Our world is constantly evolving and for the educational system to stay abreast of new technologies, we must offer students a way to immerse themselves in digital landscapes. It’s the future—and it should be the present.
So keep one eye on Iridescent and the other on the young women who’ve participated in the Technovation Challenge. Their designs might be coming to an app store near you.