As usual I thought I would try something new in my Programming I class. I figured I would give App Inventor a try. Opps. The concept was great, the implementation no so great. The problem is the emulator. Sometimes it works, sometime not. The kids are using their own computers so there are suddenly a whole lot of variables involved. It is amazing how differently PCs can be set up that will cause issues with the App Inventor emulator. The emulator requires an install so not being an administrator on their own laptop is one issue. On one kid’s computer there is a thing called Net Nanny. I have a feeling it is doing all sorts of clever things to guarantee the kid cannot use his computer. Different anti-virus software is in the mix. Oh, and the emulator sometimes just stops working. Must be the weather.
This little experiment points out one of the major issues with BYOD. Technology consists of dealing with weird issues. Teaching technology with BYOD just adds to the “weird things happen” list. Now I could set App Inventor up in the lab and pretty much guarantee it is going to work. We could then learn App Inventor without distractions. The thing is, I could care less about App Inventor. I am more interested in having the kids troubleshoot why App Inventor is not working. Programming is programming, be it App Inventor, Scratch, Python or whatever. Most of these kids will never have to program again in their life after this class but I suspect all of them will have to troubleshoot computer issues for a long time to come. CS pundits constantly talk that CS is not programming, it is troubleshooting and problem solving. What more could I ask for in the way of troubleshooting and problem solving than when App Inventor does not work and we have to figure out why?
Of course there is the little drawback in that I will have to abandon my syllabus plan for the semester and sort of punt, but hey, that is what teaching technology based subjects is all about. Hmmmm, what could I do? I have some Mindstorm robots, some Arduino kits, I could go back to Small Basic or even Scratch, dabble in a little Python, RobotC used to be an option but the trial period is not only 10 days when it used to be 90 (no money to actually buy licenses), Visual Basic is always floating around out there and the price is right, hmmm. That is the problem with teaching programming, there are just so many interesting directions to go that get the same result.