Gilbert and ASU team up for high school app contest - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

Gilbert and ASU team up for high school app contest

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Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 6:38 am | Updated: 8:53 am, Thu Feb 21, 2013.

The Town of Gilbert is holding a competition for state high school students to design a mobile application with the help of faculty and students at Arizona State University Polytechnic campus.

Students will meet Feb. 22 to learn from Arizona State University faculty about how to make an application. ASU assistant professor, Ashish Amresh, will teach the workshop. He leads the computer gaming curriculum initiatives and founded the Computer Gaming Certificate and a summer program that teaches students to create video games.

SPARK App League, an acronym for Schools Participate in App Resource and Knowledge, seeks to give high school students the opportunity to create real-world mobile applications by using town data.

“It’s a real project, solving a real problem,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation.

By challenging students to use the data, the town hopes to further its digital presence, something the town is focusing on, said Alfredo Moreno, mobile application developer for the Town of Gilbert.

“We looked at how to we utilize town data and how we could make it more useful and user-friendly for our residents,” Moreno said.

And that translates to being more transparent with residents, he said.

“We have all this data, and we wanted to open that up and increase the town’s transparency,” Moreno said.

Students will have access to town data in two categories — arts and recreation and town infrastructure. From there, what they make and how it is used is up to the students.

“It may not be in its final-form and polished, but it’s the creative ideas that come from this,” Montoya said.

While it may seem like a difficult task to analyze data and then create a way to understand the aggregate, Montoya believes that high school students are more than capable of the undertaking.

“It’s a skill that can be taught,” she said. “Even middle school students can make a video game. Now, it may not be packaged in the way you would see it when you buy it from the store, but all the components would be there.”

To help the students with the project, ASU faculty and students will be able to mentor and answer questions along the way, Montoya said.

“It’s important to introduce students to an industry that didn’t even exist seven years ago,” she said. “The mobile industry has become a $5 to 6 billion industry, an important aspect of our lives. People need to learn to develop these skills.”

And these types of kills are often self-taught, she said. As the next generation of students becomes familiar with the next generation of technology, some students begin to explore the framework of that technology.

That kind of skill can translate to a degree, she said. ASU offers an undergraduate degree in software engineering and will soon offer a degree in information technology, both of which incorporate the skills used in mobile app development.

This type of collaboration between cities and residents isn’t unheard of, especially in the San Francisco Bay area, Montoya said. Residents have created apps for cities that allow users to locate open city parking meters and the location of city buses.

“In a small town, IBM installed smart water heaters on all the residents’ houses,” Montoya said. “They could see when and how there was water loss. Many times, it was through leaks that they didn’t even know were going on.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the city had a number of local schools registered, including Gilbert’s Mesquite High School, Mesa’s Red Mountain and Dobson high schools, and Queen Creek High School.

And many more schools have requested additional information,” Moreno said.

“It’s nice to know that they’re interested in this, that high school students want to learn the technology behind it,” he said.

Registration for the competition is required by March 8. Submissions are due April 19 and the announcement of the winners will be made May 1 at the Polytechnic campus.

To register your team or for more information about the competition, visit the SPARK website at sparkappleague.com.

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