Iron County students compete to solve community problems by designing mobile apps

A student from Iron County draws out her plans for a mobile app as part of the first goIT competition in Utah held at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, May 16, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Tata Consultancy Services, Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — With careers in STEM growing so rapidly, a global leader in information technology and business solutions brought a mobile app design competition to Southern Utah.

Students from the Iron County School District at the goIT mobile app designing competition in Cedar City, Utah, May 16, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Tata Consultancy Services, Cedar City News

Tata Consultancy Services, a multinational informational technology service and consulting company, launched “goIT” in 2009: a student technology awareness program that aims to get middle and high school students interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Hillary McDonald, a corporate social responsibility specialist at TCS, told St. George News the program was created to address a gap in education where schools weren’t teaching about computer science.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations in technology and computer science are expected to add 557,100 jobs by 2026.

What started out as a robotics program has now shifted into a “design thinking” program, which allows students to be creative and solve problems using technology, McDonald said.

“Students understand apps,” she said. “There’s not a lot of explaining you have to do, and it allows them to be really creative.”

The goIT competition is a first for the state and was held at Southern Utah University Thursday, where students from Canyon View Middle School, Cedar City Middle School and students from Parowan gathered to learn the basics of computer science and design their own mobile apps.

“I think goIT is really cool because we get a chance to make new apps … and also learn about computer science,” one Iron County student told organizers at the event.

The course was about nine hours long and spanned two days, McDonald said. Students went through six modules starting with learning the foundations of computer science and ending with pitching their apps to stakeholders.

“Before they ever touch a computer, we want them to design the app on paper,” she said. “They’ll do a screen-for-screen story boarding process drawing of their mobile app.”

Then students begin the prototyping phase where they actually build their apps on computers and code them. Another aspect students learn during the course and competition is design thinking which requires students to empathize with stakeholders.

“If we were to just tell them to build an app, they would probably build another video game,” she said. “They would try to build another ‘Fortnite,’ which doesn’t really solve any problems.”

An Iron County student presents her app to stakeholders during the goIT mobile app design competition in Cedar City, Utah, May 16, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Tata Consultancy Services, Cedar City News

During the empathizing exercise, students identify problems in their community and come up with app solutions to solve those problems.

While the the goIT program allows for both middle and high school students, McDonald said the program primarily works with sixth through eighth graders because that’s when they’re starting to develop a sense of self and starting to open their eyes to technology before they’ve already formed an opinion about it.

As part of the competition, community stakeholders were brought in to help judge the apps, such as representatives from Zions Bancorporation and the Southwest Educational Development Center in Cedar City. Jason Shallenberger, founder of CodeChangers, a program that offers coding boot camps to students was also present at the competition. McDonald said Shallenberger offered three scholarships to the winning team in order for them to attend his coding camp this summer.

The winning app idea is called “Driver’s Logic” and is meant to help truck drivers or people driving long distances.

“It’s an app that would help sleepy drivers figure out when they should stop or take a break, and notify them when maybe they were veering a little too much,” McDonald said.

The app would also give drivers information on the nearest rest stops or places they could stay the night, she said.

Other notable ideas include an electronic signature app, which would make signing permission slips easier for parents and an app called “Dress Me,” an app meant to make fashion effortless and more sustainable.

Representatives from TCS plan on expanding the goIT program throughout Utah, including St. George and Kanab, McDonald said.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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