Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Technology Evangelist
http://blogs.msdn.com/MIS_Laboratory

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Can college freshmen build quality Windows Phone apps in their first eight weeks of school?  Even if they aren’t computer science or information systems majors?  The answer is a resounding YES!  From September 23rd through October 4th, Microsoft hosted an app building project at Arizona State University for the incoming class of business majors enrolled in a required IT class.  The students not only learned how to design and implement simple but quality apps, but they also had two weeks of cutting edge lectures from top app designers and programmers about the app economy, app ecosystem, and app marketing and strategy.  The project was part of exciting two week curriculum module developed by Microsoft and piloted at ASU.  The project immersed students immediately into real software development by having them design, build and market real apps.  As of this writing over 500 of the apps built have been certified and are available for download in the Window Phone Store.  Student reaction to the two-week module was very positive and many expressed an interest in changing their intended majors or add Computer Information Systems as a second (double) major.

Project Description

For the project the students used the newly launched “App Studio” at http://apps.windowsstore.com. App Studio is a browser-based development environment that is platform independent, so students could use whatever computer they had, and did not have to install any additional software. Using App Studio, students chose from one of 19 available app templates and replaced the template content with content of their own. Students could add and delete sections and pages from the templates giving them a wide range of customization options. The six data source types are supported by the App Studio tool including collections (of pictures & text), Bing search RSS, YouTube, RSS, Flickr and HTML 5 text. In addition to designing and creating the app theme, content and pages, students had to use an image editing tool extensively to make app screen shots, logos, tiles and background images.

This was a required assignment, and in order to get credit students had to successfully certify their app in the store. Since App Studio creates functionally-compliant projects, the only serious potential problem was from the quality of their content and image compliance to certification guidelines, making certification a fair requirement. For many students, the need to comply with real-world quality requirements was a first-time experience.

Microsoft Technology Evangelists delivered four 75 minute in-class lectures to the class of 2,700 students; each lecture was given seven times and discussed app platforms, marketing and strategy and app development, as well as how to actually develop the phone apps. Time was allowed at the end of each lecture for Q&A about the project

Office hours and lab were held at the Microsoft Tempe Sales Office across the street from campus.

A special web site was created for the project with how-to’s, links to DreamSpark, App Studio and the Phone Developer Portal (http://aka.ms/cis105).

http://www.mis-laboratory.com/ASUWin8/studentApps.html is a partial listing of certified apps created by the ASU students.

Lecture Topics Covered

Sept 23 & 24

  • Intro & overview to app development
  • Introduction to the Windows Phone and Windows Phone Apps
  • Project Demo

Sept 25 & 26

  • App Ecosystem
  • Distribution
  • User Types
  • Platforms
    • Android
    • iOS
    • Windows/Windows Phone
    • Blackberry
  • Types of Apps
    • Games
    • Informational
    • Utilities

Sept 30 & Oct 1

  • App Monetization
  • App Marketing
  • Oct 2 & Oct 3
  • App Development
  • IDEs (Integrated Development Environments)
  • SDKs (Software Development Kits)
  • Game and App Frameworks
  • Cloud Environments

Oct 2 & Oct 3

  • App Development
  • IDEs (Integrated Development Environments)
  • SDKs (Software Development Kits)
  • Game and App Frameworks
  • Cloud Environments

Success Factors

  • Student club provided 10 TAs
  • Browser-based tool that students could use with their own computers regardless of platform or OS version
  • Pre-populated templates helped students understand what they needed to change to complete the app assignment
  • Survey tool collected reports of completed apps including GUID and store URL for grading purposes; a similar survey collected certification failure reports
  • Microsoft Sales office across the street from campus provided lab and classroom space to handle hundreds of students at one time in an environment that reflected very positively on Microsoft as a company
  • Tobiah Marks (top Android game in 2011- “Blast Monkeys”) added credibility and academic rigor to lectures on strategy and marketing due to his rich Android and iPhone development experience and successes

Challenges We Faced

  • Virtually none of the students had Windows Phones so testing was limited to our pool of loaner devices, emulators and previews
  • Bandwidth in the office couldn’t handle peak loads and simultaneous connections despite reconfiguring the guest wireless to handle 250 IP addresses
  • Detailed tutorials and explanations on how to use the templates and how the sections and pages related to each other were lacking on the App Studio website at launch, and we had inadequate time (due to the newness of App Studio) to prepare our own documentation prior to kicking off the project which made it more difficult for less tech-savvy students to figure out the tool on their own.
  • Many students had new computers that they really didn’t know how to use (particularly the Mac Users), and we (Microsoft) lacked deep knowledge of the Mac OS so our ability to help with some of the “how do I” questions was limited
  • Not enough TA’s to handle peak loads of up to 200 students in the office at one time (30+:1)
  • A small percentage of students were under-age and had to have a parent, friend or room-mate make a developer account for them to use.

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Next Steps: Coming Soon to Your School?

The ASU app project shows that getting students immersed early in software design and development can add high-interest and value to any tech course regardless of the student skill set.  Microsoft technology evangelists are available to help you implement a similar project at your school.  For bigger opportunities we can personally engage on campus for one to four weeks.  For more information please feel free to contact me via the blog e-mail link and I’ll be happy to discuss your vision for this project and get the ball rolling.

Cheers,

Randy