New adventures

A personal message from Debbie Forster, Apps for Good co-CEO, on the next chapter for AFG UK and her future steps with AFG and beyond.

About six weeks ago, I got a bit of a shock on Whatsapp.  My 19 year old daughter, Jess, had been travelling by herself around Europe for a few weeks and had set up a message group titled, “Do Not Worry Parents.”  On it, she would send us updates of where she was and the highlights and lowlights of her travels.

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Improving your Apps for Good journey: introducing our new Student Dashboard

We’re delighted to announce the arrival of our brand new Student Dashboard! What can your students expect as they get started on their adventure?

Apps for Good students in the UK can get ready to…

Compete to have their apps built and launched to market

Students can discover and enter our UK competition, where all finalists get to travel to London and winners have their apps professionally built.

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Explore the course materials and learn at their own pace

Students can explore lessons at their own pace, visiting the dashboard to watch videos, download presentations, and complete extension activities.

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Join The Fellowship

Students can join The Fellowship to access advice from tech professionals, alerts when work experiences become available, and much more.

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How do students sign up?

  • Students will need a code to register. Teachers must create a code, then ask their students to sign up using this form.
  • Former Apps for Good students can become Fellows by signing up for the Dashboard.
  • If you are an Apps for Good partner and you’re interested in a tour of the Student Dashboard, get in touch.

Questions? Email fellows@appsforgood.org

Taking Apps for Good to the next level (aka Global Domination for Good)

Many of you will have shared in our celebrations last year of 5 years of Apps for Good. When we first launched, we were sometimes asked what our ultimate goal was. Iris would say immediately, “Global domination.” I would laugh nervously and add, “For good, of course.”  Back then, with only 50 students at one London school, it seemed a wildly ambitious dream, but one we both believed in, knowing that the first step was to get things working in the UK.

Now five years later, we are not only established in the UK, but also growing in Portugal, Spain, Poland and most recently, the US.  I’ve been to New York, Minnesota, Maine and Arkansas and we now have 40 schools across the US, reaching around 1000 students this year.

As I bounce back and forth across the Atlantic, and Iris around Europe, we’ve realised we need someone to focus on leading our efforts in the UK, as our ambition remains equally great here. So, we’re recruiting a new UK Managing Director who can build on our strong foundation, leading the UK forward on its next phase of growth and innovating on our successful programme.  The new MD, working with the enthusiastic UK Apps for Good team, will have the chance to help us implement our new Internet of Things course, expand on our Fellowship Programme for former Apps for Good students and reach even more young people across the whole of the UK. They will be supported by Iris and I and our experienced Global Team. I will continue to oversee Apps for Good’s efforts both in the US and UK, while Iris guides our work in Portugal, Spain, Poland and our emerging partnerships around the world.
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Joining the dots: 5 Years of Apps for Good

In 2015/16, we’ve been celebrating our first 5 years in schools. Here, Founder & co-CEO Iris Lapinski looks back at our journey from one centre and 50 students in South London to over 1,500 schools and 75,000 students around the world, and at where we might be going next.

It is always easy to look back at the past and tell a convincing and logical story of what has happened and why it was unavoidable. But, as Steve Jobs already noted in his famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech, connecting the dots looking backwards is easy; what is impossible is predicting the future and knowing what dots are important and connecting them before events happen. So, you have to trust that the dots will connect somehow in the future.  Continue reading

Our Impact in 2014/15

It’s time again to talk not only about what we do at Apps for Good, but what we actually achieve in pursuing our goal of powering young people to change their world with technology.

In 2014/15 another seven of the best Apps for Good teams from across the UK launched their winning apps onto the market with the support of our development teams. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: during the last school year 24,000 students worked on nearly 5,000 app prototypes created to help make a difference to their communities. And this is not only in the UK, but also in new territories like Spain, Portugal, Poland and the USA. Our vision to become a truly global movement is one step closer.

But of course the number of app prototypes and number of students reached do not tell you the full story. By rooting students’ learning in the real world process of creating a technology product, students grow their skills and confidence. They get a clearer idea of their career options and choices in life. They get first-hand experience that building a technology product is a highly creative, collaborative way of working that can directly connect with their interests and passions. And, they learn that they have the power to change the world for the better. Educators delivering Apps for Good equally grow both in terms of their knowledge of technology but also pedagogical skills and confidence.

Here we present you the data for all of this. Collecting this data and making sense of it is not always easy, but we strongly believe that unless we keep measuring and tracking what we do publicly we cannot improve for the benefit of all of our communities. It is not only our students and educators who are learning, but so are we.

As we look back, the future is on our minds already. This year marks our 5th anniversary, when we will be celebrating having reached more than 50,000 students, a feat very few organisations achieve in our space. But this is just the start: our potential to grow both the quality of our work and our reach is bigger than it ever was before.

The world desperately needs more young people who are confident, resilient, and passionate and who actively and independently solve problems they face in their communities by turning technology into a force for good. And it also needs ever more confident, passionate and skilled educators who can support them on the journey.

We will do our best to help both.

Just imagine: a world where every young person and every educator on the planet could harness the benefits of these skills and confidence for themselves and their communities.  A world where people are empowered and able to solve problems they face.

A dream maybe, but not an impossible one to achieve.

Iris Lapinski, co-CEO, Apps for Good

Our Reach: A Global Movement

In 2014/15, the Apps for Good Course was delivered to 24,000 students in 588 schools all across the world. We have more than doubled the number of education partners we work with every year since the pilot in 2010/11.

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Our international growth in 2014/15 was significant, with major pilot communities in Spain, Portugal and USA. Schools outside the UK now account for 12% of the total Apps for Good education community.

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We have maintained high levels of diversity amongst our student body.

  • Girls consistently make up about half of our student cohort – far outstripping the 17% of female professionals in the tech industry.
  • As we grow, we are reaching proportionally more students from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. In 2014/15, over half of the schools delivering the Apps for Good course were above the national average for recipients of free school meals.

Our Impact: Powering A Generation

The Apps for Good course continues to have a huge impact on a range of technical and soft skills that are vital to helping young people thrive in a tech driven future.

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We want to change the definition of failure. Our course incorporates the start-up ethos of “fail often, fail well”, teaching students that failure is an important part of problem-solving and building real-world products.

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By offering students hands on experience with tech, showing them that tech development can be a creative and collaborative experience, and connecting students with Apps for Good Experts (professionals from the tech industry and beyond), the course puts their skills in a real-world context and inspires students to pursue careers involving tech.

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Our Impact: Transforming Education

To really power a generation to change their world through technology, Apps for Good aims to transform education by having an impact on educators.

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By building the knowledge and skills of teachers and changing the way they teach, we can extend the effect of Apps for Good year on year, with more confident teachers able to inspire students to be independent and drive their own learning, whilst guiding them towards solving the “messy problems” of the real world.

This report highlights only some of the stats we’ve gathered this year. We’ll be posting blogs over the coming months that investigate what we’ve learned and what we’ve gotten right and wrong. Get in touch with us at contact@appsforgood.org if you want more details on our data and impact reporting.

Celebrating Apps for Good students in Portugal

Mohima Ahmed, Apps for Good Trustee, Fellow and former student, shares her experiences of visiting the end of year Apps for Good festival in Portugal. 

In 2010, I participated in the Pilot Apps for God course at my school in Tower Hamlets, London, where our team created Transit – an English/Bengali translation app for parent-teacher conferences. On completing the course, I became a Fellow and helped out at events as an advocate. Recently, I joined the Apps for Good Board as a trustee. Five years after taking part in the UK pilot scheme, I had the opportunity to see what students in the Portuguese pilot scheme where doing! It was my first business trip abroad and I felt like the fanciest 20 year old alive!

The Apps for Good pilot scheme in Portugal took place throughout the 2014/2015 school year and involved 30 schools in Lisbon and Porto. Like in all Apps for Good courses, students worked together in teams to develop app ideas to solve issues affecting their world.

Now, while all the teams I met on my visit had very unique and interesting ideas, one app from Lisbon that really stood out for me was Ebssa-Especial, designed to help children with speech problems communicate with teachers. The problem was inspired by the fact that 90% of the students in the school the girls attend have learning disabilities, many with speech difficulties. The girls used their classmates and teachers to put together all their research and the prototype for the app is currently being used in the school, attracting a lot of positive feedback. The team won 1st prize at the Apps for Good festival held in Lisbon and what struck me most was, when the students went up to collect the award, their teachers started crying. The head teacher even went on to take the microphone and very emotionally let us all know just how proud she was of her students. If there was ever a “poster story” for what this course is – it’s these girls and what they’ve created: a true APP FOR GOOD!

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The team behind Ebssa-Especial and their teachers

Of course, the schools in Porto were just as exciting and my favourite story is the one behind Baby Care – an app for pregnant women to store their baby information and find out all the imperative information expectant mothers so frantically search for. The best part about this app for me was its creator – an 11 year BOY! Being the older sister of a pre-pubescent boy, I can tell you that the struggles of a pregnant woman isn’t something a lot of them think about, but that wasn’t the case for Junior Vilela – whose mum has been pregnant many times. This just showcases exactly why I love Apps for Good. It gives a voice to young kids to tackle whatever they want – and the outcomes always amaze. It’s not often 11 year old boys get to help make life easier for pregnant women but at Apps for Good, it’s just another day at the office.

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Junior Vilela created an app to help expectant mothers

Now there’s no way I can end this bog without giving a MASSIVE shout out to the awesome Apps for Good team at Portugal. They were welcoming, friendly and VERY Portuguese (that means they hug – A LOT) which saw me lose the stiff British reserve very quickly – they don’t like it when you offer handshakes over kisses on the cheek so just don’t do it. The one phrase they taught me translates to “I’m hungry, feed me” so we got along just fine. The team there isn’t a team – it’s a family and so I’ll end this much longer than intended piece with a picture of me with the Portuguese family (yes, we used a selfie stick – don’t judge.)

Mohima with the Apps for Good team in Portugal

Mohima with the Apps for Good team in Portugal

Heather Picov shares the Apps for Good story with Locassa

An app to help work-averse kids find motivation to do their chores.
A virtual piggybank for kids and their parents to avoid squabbling over cash.
A cattle management app that helps farmers keep track of cow in their herd.

These are just a few examples of apps conceived of, designed and pitched by students as part of Apps for Good, a U.K.-based app development course created for students.

Founded in 2010 by Iris Lapinski, Apps for Good grew out of the work of the Centre for Digital Inclusion (CDI), a social enterprise started in the favelas of Brazil in 1995 to use technology to fight poverty and stimulate entrepreneurship.

Through her work with CDI, Iris recognized that the U.K. could adopt some of the concepts surrounding using technology for social improvement. But rather than focus on learning software skills as the program did in the developing world, she thought it would be more relevant to get students in the U.K. to innovate using a tool many of them had in their pockets: a smartphone.

To learn more about how Apps for Good works and why there’s so much excitement surrounding the program, we checked in with Heather Picov, head of communications and communities. Here’s what she had to say:

How does Apps for Good work?

Apps for Good partners with schools, FE colleges and learning centres across the U.K., who deliver our app development course to their students aged 10-18.

Educators access our online training and use our course content framework based on three key pillars: student-driven learning, using technology to solve problems creatively, and providing real world context. The course takes students through the process a real entrepreneur or business would undertake in developing a product, from user research to creating wireframes to business modelling. Importantly, we call it a course “framework” rather than a course, as educators adapt the materials to make them fit within their classroom – whether that’s for students’ age, class size, or the abilities of the students and/or teacher. This means that what the course is like for students in practice will vary from school to school.

The majority of educators are computing teachers, but some might teach the course in other subject areas such as business, and most deliver Apps for Good within curriculum time.

Apps for Good educators also have access to our network of over 900 technology and business professionals: Apps for Good Experts. Educators organise one-hour mentoring sessions with Experts for students throughout the course, mostly via video conferencing, providing students with real world insight as they develop their ideas.

Educators access everything they need to teach the course through our online platform, including our professional development materials, the course content framework, and procedures for setting up Expert sessions.

At the end of the course, students can enter our national competition, where the winning apps are launched on to the market.

Apps for Good is supported by corporate partners and trusts and foundations, which allows us to offer the programme for free to non-fee paying schools.

What makes students good candidates for app development?

Young people 10-18 years of age are the first generation that has grown up immersed in technology. They are massive consumers of technology, especially on their mobile phones. Our mission is to help them to also be creators and makers using technology.

Young people are often not as hindered in their creativity as adults, so they can be freer in their ability to think creatively to solve problems. Young people are also better placed to build technology products for other young people; they will intuitively understand what is needed better than a middle-aged developer or entrepreneur.

The technology world lacks diversity, and this is stifling innovation. By not tapping into young people who are traditionally excluded from the technology industry – whether that’s girls or those living in a rural area – we’re missing out on ideas and insight that could have a big impact on the world.

For example, imagine you are a boy who lives in rural Scotland. Your family are farmers, and as part of your daily life you are expected to help your parents looking after the herd of cows that sustains your family’s livelihood. Due to various disease outbreaks over recent decades, rearing cows is a highly regulated activity. For instance, you need to keep track of vaccination records for each animal. Your job as the farmer’s son is to transfer paper notes into the computer back at home, but you are fed up doing this. The result: Cattle Manager, an app to easily manage your herd on the go, which won our national competition in 2013.

What’s the process students use to come up with the ideas for the apps they build?

The starting point for students is their own life experience: their friends, family and the community they live in. It has to be a real problem with a tangible impact on real people. To kick off this process, students undertake a series of activities to help them think about problems in their day-to-day lives and those related to their hobbies and interests. An example is our “average bad day” activity, where students list all the things that could go wrong in the worst day imaginable – they missed their alarm, the hot water wasn’t working so they couldn’t take a shower, they missed their bus, they forgot their homework, etc.

Through this idea generation process, students create a long list of potential app ideas. They then scope and refine these ideas, checking them against market research and speaking to Apps for Good experts, often pivoting the ideas based on feedback or abandoning ideas altogether. In doing this, they can take the most viable idea forward to a prototyping stage.

There’s a key rule in Apps for Good: the app idea must come from the students themselves. This can be one of the hardest parts of the Apps for Good course for students and teachers. So much of education is based around students being told what to do and teachers feeling they need to do things for students to help them move forward. But the ownership of the idea helps drive students’ learning forward, especially when they encounter challenges. Building a great product is hard. Learning how to code is hard. Developing a business model is hard. But if it’s based around something students care about and has a goal they can grasp, they have a reason to invest the time and energy.

How does teaching young people app development enhance their classroom experience? What about their life outside of the classroom?

Apps are a good, contemporary way for us to ground students’ learning in the real world and to make this attractive to students. Students aren’t just being told to learn something because a teacher or parent says, “it’s important.” There’s no right or wrong answer known by the teacher ahead of time, nor are students memorising and reproducing known solutions to known problems.

In developing an app, students learn to build fast, to test assumptions by collecting real feedback on a solution they have come up with, and to work in a diverse team. What they are doing has a connection to a real world problem, and they build a product that they can be proud of. They learn problem solving that is much more relevant to the messy problems of the real world. They build their confidence and resilience by seeing failure as part of the problem-solving process.

How has the programme been received in the U.K.?

We started in 2010 with just two centres and 50 students, while now in the 2014/15 academic year we’ve been working with over 500 schools and more than 25,000 students. Apps for Good’s first pilot was in a community centre in South London for 18-25 year olds; but quite quickly there was a demand from schools to run the programme, and this pivot has been a key driver of our growth.

Apps for Good launched at a time when a lot of teachers and students were frustrated with the way that computing was being taught in schools, where the focus was on software skills rather than learning to make and create with technology. Last year, a new Computing Curriculum was introduced in England which has also helped us grow, including within primary schools. We’ve seen phenomenal growth in Scotland too, where our course not only aligns with their curriculum, which has a greater focus on creative learning, but also many teachers there like that the course helps students reach out beyond their local community. Our course materials and training are all accessed online; and crucially, Expert sessions are conducted remotely. So a teacher in, say, the Highlands can connect students with an Expert based in Glasgow or London or even Brazil.

What surprises you the most about working with students?

My background is not within education, and I think when you are outside of the sector you can be inundated with negative portrayals of young people and the harmful effects of technology – whether it’s online bullying or children spending too much time playing online games. What’s been so refreshing and exciting is to meet so many students who contradict those stereotypes – young people who are excited about technology and want to use it to make a positive impact on the world. What impresses me too is their confidence and how quickly they adapt and overcome their fears. It’s inspiring to see a group of 13 year old girls pitch their app to a panel of C-suite executives, which would be incredibly intimidating to many of us. We’ve seen students who can barely speak one-word answers at the beginning of the course go on to give interviews to the BBC a year later.

What have the students taught you about app development?

Working with students on app development has certainly reinforced the importance of user-based app development and that young people are a unique user group. For example, for the I’m Okay app, which provides support to young people exploring their sexuality and gender, the student team behind the app knew that an important feature for their users was that the app needed to be hidden on the phone or not have any obvious LGBTQ branding, because the students understood from experience that friends are always going on each other’s phones – something adults are unlikely to be aware of. Another example is a bullying app where the user can seek help from other students rather than from an adult, which is what we adults always try to design.

The team behind I'm Okay

What have been some of your favourite student-developed apps?

I always love the apps created by students for students, where you get to see what students come up with to help each other.

The I’m Okay app was created by a team of girls who wanted to provide support to young people struggling with issues around sexuality and gender, as all of them had friends or family who had faced this and found it difficult.

Last year, we had an app created by a team from a primary school to make sleepovers more fun, which I doubt an adult would ever have thought of. In our competition this year, we have two apps to help students learn about science: one has videos and recipes to do science experiments at home, and the other helps make learning chemistry more fun with quizzes and an interactive periodic table of elements.

What’s the future for Apps for Good?

A major focus for us right now is international growth. We are fortunate to get a huge amount of interest from other countries; but as exciting as this is, we know that we need to approach international expansion slowly and strategically. We’re running international pilots in Europe and the USA to understand how Apps for Good fits within these countries and what does and doesn’t work for us for an international model.

Another big strategic development is our Fellowship programme, which changes how we work with students in the long term. Up until this year, outside of our national competition, we had nothing to offer students once they had completed the Apps for Good course. Now, with the Fellowship programme, we can provide ongoing opportunities for students to get hands-on experience in app development or one aspect of the course such as coding or UX or marketing. This is especially important for us as we grow and a decreasing proportion of our students have access to our national competition, where we work with seven winning teams. It will also help us to understand the long-term impact that Apps for Good is having on our students.

We often get asked if we will only ever teach students how to build “apps.” The definition of apps themselves is inherently flexible: apps are a recipe to do something. Students can already build a mobile, social or web app in the course, and we’ll be pursing the direction that apps go in – such as robotics, the internet of things and wearable technology – to keep the course grounded in the real world and exciting for students.

To check out the original version of this blog visit Locassa and to find out more about Locassa click here.

To learn more about Apps for Good or to deliver our course in 2015-16 visit our website.