Arizona State Students Develop Apps To Help Homeless People



How can a mobile app improve the life of a homeless person? This question leads an Arizona State University Classes which teaches students how to code and deal with the various challenges faced by the homeless.

The 15-week course, titled “Coding for Social Good,” was launched in the spring by the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. In the course, students learn to create prototype applications that connect people to housing, food and health resources.

Chris Hayter, associate professor and co-instructor, said the course began with students identifying and researching “sub-challenges” associated with homelessness. From there, the class designed apps that can direct individuals to the nearest public toilets and places where they can find help with food insecurity, among other needs reported by the homeless. from the Phoenix area.

“Their solution had to manifest in the app, and in order to do that, they had to focus on specific aspects of roaming,” he said. “They have to define their problem and present their initial solution within three to four weeks. ”

Bailey Borman, director of strategic projects and initiatives and co-instructor, said students learned about app development using Swift Playgrounds, an interactive curriculum platform that teaches the basics of coding.

“We spent several weeks of our course throughout the 15-week semester in the field,” she said. “By working with community partners and people facing the sub-issues identified by the students, they got an initial idea, got feedback from community partners, and moved on to what we call a proof of concept workshop. , where they build the framework for their idea and create a dummy user interface for their application. “

According to Borman, two teams of students were chosen to continue developing their prototype applications during the summer following the end of the course.

One group has created a tool called USource, which aims to help low-income students find affordable housing, health care, and financial aid resources. The other group has developed a program called Periaid that helps users locate menstrual products, which can be hard to find for homeless and needy communities.

“They spent the summer working on coding their prototype,” Borman said. “They are continuing to iterate and develop their work. Hopefully in the coming months we will see the first releases. ”

The course taught students with little or no programming experience the ins and outs of rudimentary coding. Students who used Swift Playgrounds, known as Junior Swift Programmers, helped those who had no knowledge.

“Swift Playgrounds gave us a great introduction to coding and computing,” Huong Dang said in a press release. “This basic knowledge of the coding language helped us work with the junior programmer from Swift to code and develop our application. ”

Hayter said the overall goal of the course is to combine elements of social entrepreneurship with coding and bring together students from different fields, from computer science to engineering to business, to solve problems of the community.

“We weren’t trying to create coders per se,” said Hayter. “We want these people to be good teammates who can work with coders and understand the overall process of value creation in the social context.”

Brandon Paykamian is a writer for Government Technology. He has a BA in Journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, focusing primarily on public and higher education.

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