App design course expands ways students can help others


- Anne Tolson


When Emma Bradley-Island signed up for a course in computer science to meet the requirements of her psychology degree, she never imagined it would open the doors to a whole new way of helping people.

The introductory computer science course on web and mobile applications was offered fully online this summer in order to reach a broader audience, including members of the wider community and students like Bradley-Island, who don’t live in Victoria.

The popular course is aimed at non-specialists, who are tasked with developing the front-end of their very own web-based apps, using 2D and 3D design strategies and deployment technologies.

“I didn’t realize this course would potentially change my life when I registered—I figured it was just going to be something I had to just check off the box for,” says Bradley-Island, a part-time UVic student who lives in Ontario. “But the course work I did has turned into this passion project and a potential business plan. It has been very empowering.”

Bradley-Island is clearly interested in helping others. She works as a firefighter in Caledon, a community located about 60 kilometers outside Toronto, and volunteers both as a crisis line responder and a rescue instructor.

For the app development course, Bradley-Island drew on previous volunteer experience at a palliative care facility.

“As a volunteer in palliative care, I was working with people one-on-one, writing down their life stories so that these could be shared with their loved ones,” recalls Bradley-Island. “There was a huge demand for it, but I just couldn’t meet that demand as one person. I figured an app could be a way to reach a much bigger audience and help people to create their stories themselves.”

Using the skills gained during the course, she designed a web-based app that enables people nearing the end of their lives to easily compile their life stories online and share them with others. Users are provided with a series of online prompts to answer questions and to upload media files.

Supporting inclusion in STEM

Yvonne Coady, the computer science professor who taught the course this summer, is passionate about encouraging students from diverse disciplines to bring new ideas and approaches to web and mobile app design. One of several faculty members who have taught the course over the years, Coady sees the hands-on course as an effective way to bring greater empathy to computer science and app development.

“My sense is that this course could really help students from many disciplines and backgrounds to see a pathway for changing the world through technology,” says Coady. “We’re working hard to improve diversity in computer science because society needs diverse perspectives and more empathy in the design of its apps. After all these years, it’s really the missing piece.”

Coady hopes to teach the web and app development course fully online each summer for the next several years. Her goal is to try to bring the course to many people and communities that might not be regular UVic students but could really benefit from learning the skills to develop their own web-based applications.


In this story

Keywords: computers, student life

People: Yvonne Coady, Emma Bradley-Island

Publication: The Ring

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