19th October 2015
What’s it all about, this tech & coding stuff, aaaggghhh – a simple guide for NON TECHIES?!
Episode 2: Apps / Websites / Mobility / Games / New Emerging Technology
Apps have grown hugely in popularity over the last number of years and these days there’s almost an App for everything! “There’s an App for that”, is a very commonly heard phrase these days!
An App is a self-contained program or piece of software designed to fulfil a particular purpose. An App has and is; an Application – it has a specific use of its own or provides a specific service, offering or information in its own self contained way. When people talk about Apps, they can mean a piece of software on a computer (old school use of the word application!) like an email tool, but these days the term is more commonly used to refer to Apps that people use on their mobile devices. So these are the types of Apps that we’ll focus on now.
An App is a special type of software program (remember from part 1: program = collection of lines of code to deliver working technology!). Apps are usually designed for use on smartphones or mobile devices like phones and tablets. There are also ‘web Apps’ which are Apps that you can access while online on your computer rather than having to install that program on your computer.
To build an App, coders use coding languages like HTML and CSS but for non coders there are a multitude of App Builder tools like Appmaker which makes App development quite simple for those with less technology expertise.
The growth in popularity of Apps means that we’ve all become quite comfortable with finding them, installing them and using the. Apps can be used for many different things from games to music players to editing pictures to purchasing products & services. Indeed many businesses have used Apps to their benefit, by using them to provide products and services. This makes them more accessible to their consumers who can use Apps on their mobile devices from anywhere at anytime. Apps also help companies to conduct business with their own employees, to talk to their customers and to fix problems from wherever they are in the world.
Examples of companies that use mobile apps are;
– TripAdvisor; who have an app that is customised for searching for a vacation accommodation & travel. When abroad, a download feature is available, so that their App users don’t need an internet connection to view all of the information on the city they’re visiting.
– Hailo; which is a mobile app that allows you to order a taxi to a specific location. This App uses location mapping technology which is particularly useful as it allows you to pinpoint the location of your taxi as well as allowing your taxi to pinpoint your location.
The most popular places from which to download Apps are the iTunes Store and the Android App Store on Google Play. Most Apps are available to download free of charge of for small fees. Others are more expensive as they provide full business services or experiences. Some Apps also offer in App purchasing i.e. when you’re using the App you may be charged for services provided – a cautionary note – be careful of this functionality in Apps that may be accessed by kids! When downloaded, the App is stored on your device from where you can open it whenever you want. Once you open an App it continues to run on your operating system until you close it. Another cautionary note – leaving Apps running can eat up your battery and if not managed properly can also eat up your data – so check your settings and / or remember to shut down your Apps when not using them!
Apps can be educational as well as fun. There are lots of free educational Apps available that can help with learning to code, learning a language or completing maths challenges. Apps like Codecademy, Khan Academy and Lightbot are some of the most used Apps for learning to code.
Websites, we all know them and love them or hate them, they’re simply part of everyday life for most of us!
For many of us, we can hardly imagine how we survived before the internet but some of us can almost remember how until relatively recently people would joke about “the interweb” / “worldwide web”, wondering if it’d ever catch on!
We’ve moved on and now recognise that there are hundreds of different uses for websites from personal websites that can host your family details or your portfolio to websites supporting the operations, services and products of huge companies and businesses.
A website is a collection of related web pages which are accessed via the internet. Websites can be made about anything you want and linked to other sites as well. They are used for information sharing, with people searching the internet to find info or to learn about new things. Search engines like Google have become the first place where someone will go when when they want to find information.
Websites are also used for selling things, with a lot of people now preferring the convenience and choice available when they shop online. Playing games on the internet is also very popular, as is using websites to communicate with people all over the world.
Some examples of cool websites used for coding education would be Code Week EU, Code Club or Camara.
People are mobile, we don’t spend all our time at desks in the office or home! Technology now supports our mobility. We can now complete almost any online activity using our mobile devices as we can from our desktops or laptops in our homes
Mobility within technology refers to the use of wireless technologies which allow users to access anything from information to documents from wherever they are.
Wireless technology is reliant on broadband, wi-fi, bluetooth or mobile generation data services to allow us to access the internet & cloud while away from “wire based connections” in homes or offices! These technologies also enable devices to connect with each other and with other things – like bluetooth enabling your phone to connect with your car.
Wireless technology has enabled a huge shift in how we live and work and connect with each other. It’s changed how we shop and interact with each other and with the world around us! We’re free from being desk based but being always contactable / available, we may need to consider when “to just switch off”!
Also related ie the emergence of “The Cloud”, “Cloud Computing”, & “Cloud Services”. The least complicated way that I can think of explaining this is…….instead of having to keep all of your Apps, Photos, Tools, Programs or Files on your PC or device (using up your storage), these are all stored in “the cloud” and you can access them whenever you need to use them or view them. Using mobile technologies, all of this information in the cloud can be accessed irrespective of your location.
If I was to get really technical about mobility, I’d include an assessment of broadband services / wi-fi services, the merits of Fibre to the Cabinet vs Fibre to the home, vs Copper vs Fibre, Spectrums etc. but trust me, even the deep experts haven’t quite cracked how to solve the challenge of us all wanting to be “always on” with high speed data access no matter where we are!
Let’s just remember that 1 Billion people in the world don’t even have access to electricity and count our blessings!
Games can be made using many different languages and on different platforms.
Many Ninjas in CoderDojo start coding by creating games called platform games. These are video games which involve guiding your character to jump over obstacles and between suspended platforms to advance in the game! A famous example of a platform game is Super Mario!
Platform games can be developed using a variety of different programs such as GameMaker, Unity or GameSalad. These platforms can simplify building a game by providing step by step instructions to make basic games. Games can be multi functional and can be both a source of fun and educational.
Game based learning (GBL) refers to the type of “game playing” that has in built learning outcomes. This relatively new technology based way to educate and assess people while they are playing makes online learning a bit different and more fun. GBL works on a principle of balancing subject matter with game play. Educational games use techniques like showing a player something which they will need to remember later, thus helping them to memorise things. GBL can be used collaboratively by teachers and students to add different perspectives to educational gaming.
At CoderDojo, kids and young people enjoy making games using Scratch. Scratch is an MIT developed, free of charge programming tool, specifically developed for younger people and is based on a simple language called Blockly. Scratch is a great introduction to making games. From using Scratch as an introduction, many kids move on to Unity, which is a more complex game creation platform that enables building of very sophisticated games. The gaming industry has a huge impact on influencing young people to code – they experience games as players – then are thrilled to learn the they too can learn how to be game developers.
We have a principle at Dojo sessions around the world – “If you didn’t make it, you can’t play it”! This helps to focus kids on using their time a Dojos to be tech creators, not just tech consumers!
New Emerging Technology
Below is an outline of some of the most popular new technology that has begun to be used more readily and incorporated into many different things.
- Virtual Reality – this is the term used to describe a 3D generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. The person is immersed into this virtual world where they can discover things by using the five senses. Virtual reality is commonly used in games but it also has some other amazing uses such as rehabilitating stroke patients, taking a jury through a crime scene and treating PTSD. HoloLens is a see through holographic computer which allows high definition holograms to become a part of your surroundings. The Oculus Rift is a headset used for virtual reality games and much more. A game has now been developed by the people behind Oculus Rift which will use the headset to help people who suffer from panic and anxiety attacks.
- Drones – drones are unmanned aerial vehicles which are commonly used within the military when a manned flight is considered too risky but they have been shown to have many different uses. Drones can be programmed through using code like Node.js to do any number of things. They have been used to survey landscapes and provide 3D maps and have also been used for protecting wildlife by counting numbers of certain species.
- Hardware – as mentioned in the first Episode of this article, hardware refers to the physical aspects of computers. It doesn’t just refer to the actual computer but can refer to cables, the power supply and other devices that can be programmed. Ninjas at CoderDojo enjoy using RaspberryPis which are small computers which they can program to do many different things such as measure the temperature in a room. The Arduino is another hardware product which Ninjas love to use to create. It has many different uses and is used for creating interactive objects. One CoderDojo Ninja from Poland built her own rocket which had an Arduino on board to generate light and sound effects.
- Wearable Technology – wearable technology is a device or piece of technology that can be worn by a person. They have many different uses such as GPS tracking or measuring health and fitness. The Apple Watch is a very popular example of wearable technology. These devices tend to have many different sensors and are controlled by a simple OS (operating System). Ninjas at CoderDojo like to create wearable technology in the form of badges or belts with LED lights that can spell out different words or phrases through using code.
Kids are embracing these new technologies and already creating with them!
At our CoderDojo Global Coolest Projects Awards which we hold every year, we introduced an ‘Evolution’ competition category this year, to accommodate the emergence of new technologies.
One of the young competitors within the Evolution category, Harvey, created a wearable device with a supporting App which would enable parents to track their children when in busy areas like shopping centres or parks.
Another, Thomas, used the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality head-mounted display, to create an augmented reality environment with 2 hacked webcams and overlaying a HUD over the image.
The only limitation is truly the imagination!