Guest Blog Sal McKeown: Starting early, going further

Sal McKeown is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in education. Sal has taught in schools and colleges, supporting students with the full range of learning needs from sensory disabilities to mental health issues and autism, but is probably best known for her work on dyslexia. Here, Sal continues her monthly blog series for bee-it, this time reflecting on this year’s Apps for Good programme…

It takes schools a while to build up the confidence to enter Apps for Good. Teachers worry that their pupils’ efforts will not be good enough but the professionals who work in technology are very impressed with schools’ entries. In fact, I suspect some of those who earn their living in the technology sector are looking over their shoulder with some anxiety at what is coming next.

Some schools enter year after year. Stratford Girls’ Grammar School were in the finals again this year with Arty-fact.  Billed as an ‘art tutor in your pocket’, it helps young people learn about the style and techniques used by the masters. Last year they entered I’m Okay which provided support and information for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people. I’m Okay was a classic example of how to win. First do your research. Their survey established a need as 73% said they were more honest online than face to face and valued the anonymity of apps because there is no trail to show which sites they have visited. Secondly, start a social media campaign. By the time they faced the Dragons, I’m Okay had 265 followers on Twitter. Thirdly get a celeb endorsement. The girls were able to tell the judges that they had been retweeted twice by Stephen Fry.

This year the People’s Choice award was won by five boys Denbigh High School with Who Cares? aimed at school mates and others who act as carers for someone in their family. Again, it was research and interest from a celebrity – in this case Richard Branson who now offers Virgin Care – that won the day. The boys were surprised to find that no one else had created an app for young carers who may be social isolation but will have access to a phone and social media all the time.

Apps for Good’s Debbie Forster points out that teachers do not need to be technology whizz kids: ‘You are the pedagogical experts offering advice and guidance. There are 700 experts you can call on for technology support.’

Christopher Jen is one of those experts. He was involved in marketing at Cisco and now works at Akamai Technologies. He enjoys passing on to the next generation the knowledge he has gained from studying and working. He appreciates that contestants are young and nervous, perhaps not used to talking to adults outside of school and family but admires he fact that they are all ‘super- energetic.. I love hearing their passion.

During the Market Place event on the judging night I spoke to Ricky Martin, former winner of the Apprentice who was in business by the age of 16. He was a judge for the Productivity category and said:

It was an honour to be an Apps for Good Dragon this year. The students pitched their app ideas with such confidence and enthusiasm – I was amazed at their motivation and determination to succeed. I am looking forward to seeing these future tech leaders change ourworld.”

Darren Lynch, Creative Director of Gourmet Pixel was also at the Market Place. His company is taking forward the development of three apps: Who Cares? from Denbigh High in Luton; Boswell School’s World of Atoms which won the Learning category and BOOKd from Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, winner of the Productivy award. It is the first year his company has been involved and he was impressed with the standard but even more impressed with the ethos: “The fact that most of the apps were mainly aimed at educating or enabling people was very refreshing.”

He thinks the future is looking exciting.  In the past, creating software or sites meant learning about coding from magazines or books and then finding a publisher. It was a long drawn out process, for a very select few.

“Nowadays, you can have an idea – go on YouTube and learn to code in Xcode, design in Sketch or Photoshop,” said Darren. “You can get a developer’s license, submit your app to Apple and have it promoted to MILLIONS of people across the globe within days. You have the entire world as potential customers… that is quite a big shop front.” Apps for Good is making sure that the young developers are ready for the challenge.

For more information about Apps for Good, visit http://www.appsforgood.org/public/teach-apps-for-good

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