While it may not seem at first that rapid app development and ecology go together, in reality they do, at least at Clayton State University.
The University’s second Eco Hackathon was held for Earth Day 2015 under the auspices of Professor of Biology Dr. Jere Boudell. The Eco Hackathon had the goal of teaching introductory app development skills and creating ecology apps using MIT App Inventor. Teams of Clayton State students and alumni worked for six hours to create three ecology-based apps; an aquatic animal game, a food web game, and an edible plant information app.
“The apps that were created through the Ecology semester project and the Eco Hackathon are powerful demonstrations of what happens when we enable everyone to have access to the powerful mobile devices we carry with us every day,” Boudell points out. “This type of accessibility allows all of us to be producers of meaningful technology and allows all of us to make our dreams real.”
A riparian (riverine) plant ecologist, Boudell has spent the last couple of years at Clayton State melding her interest in technology with ecology. In addition to the two Eco Hackathons (the first was in the spring of 2014), Boudell has spent the past semester bringing this form of experiential learning – app development – into her Ecology laboratory.
“Working in collaborative teams, students, without prior programming experience, used MIT App Inventor to create apps for ecology research, outreach, and education,” she says of the spring 2015 Ecology lab. “My students were able to create apps that allow users to learn animal calls, identify poisonous plants and seek emergency help if needed, play an educational game about pollution, identify some of the trees on campus, and even analyze data and identify animal behavior.
“Besides becoming engaged in the topic of the app, the students also learned basic programming and problem solving skills.”