Last week, I broke the news that Google plans to shut down Android App Inventor, its DIY tool for building mobile phone apps. Google did indicate that it will open source the code for App Inventor and said that due to App Inventor's adoption by educators, that it was looking for ways to continue to support the educational use of the tool.
So for those worried about plans to use App Inventor in the classroom: last week's bad news is this week's great news, because App Inventor has a new home: MIT Media Lab. MIT announced today the creation of the MIT Center for Mobile Learning, a new part of the Media Lab that will focus on education and learning through mobile computing. The Center's formation has been seeded with a gift from Google.
The Center's first project will be App Inventor. As I noted last week, App Inventor's origin is tied to MIT, as the project was built by Google with the input from Professor Hal Abelson. Abelson is well known for his work in pedagogy and computer science (among other things), and App Inventor demonstrates this: the program makes it easy for those without any programming knowledge to dive into building mobile applications.
And MIT Media Lab is in many ways the ideal home for App Inventor, particularly as the laboratory houses another introductory programming tool, Scratch. Scratch and App Inventor share a very common visual programming interface, where blocks can be dragged-and-dropped in order to design and build your app, game, or animation.
But it isn't simply an understanding of how to teach computer science, programming, and logic that makes the MIT Media Lab a good fit for App Inventor. Around the Scratch programming language has been built a vibrant community -- on the cusp of having its 2 millionth project uploaded to the Scratch website. Many community members participate actively in downloading and sharing the programs they've built, and while Scratch programs are all openly licensed -- something that isn't the case with Android App Inventor projects -- the online community certainly provides a roadmap for how a group of learners, builders, designers, programmers can come together.
According to Dr. Maggie Johnson, Google's Director of Education and University Relations, MIT Media Lab is a logical place for App Inventor. "Google incubated App Inventor to the point where it gained critical mass. MIT's involvement will both amplify the impact of App Inventor and enrich the research around it."
Leading the new Mobile Learning Center will be Hal Abelson, Eric Klopfer, Associate Professor of Science Education; and Mitchel Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and the creator of Scratch.