Mobile Student Labor

students-on-edge-of-lowAt the beginning of the semester I shopped a class offered in the Columbia CS Dept on mobile computing.  Sadly, I didn’t have time to take the class this semester, but I suppose I can follow along Standford’s version free of charge.

Prof. Nieh was personable, animated, and bright, but the first day of class made me realize the impact CCNMTL has had on me. I doubt I would have made these observations/connections as an undergrad.

First, I was a bit sad that the curriculum did not include even a spoonful of social/cultural context.  The only books on the reading list were SDKs. A little Rhiengold, Shirky, or Zittrain, judiciously applied, could go a long way.

Second, Nieh announced that the entire semester would be organized around projects. That’s a great way to learn, but he also imagined a competition, with the possibility of a venture capitalist evaluating the projects at the end of the semester.

Now, although I am presenting at the Left Forum this weekend, I have nothing against turning a profit (after all, I’m an Alchemist).  But, would it really be too heavy handed to require that students at the university organize their production around the Public Good (and maybe become mobily active)?  What about the needs of the university?  Or even, an Open Source project? 60-80 Columbia CS students (w/ some Masters students) – that’s alot of creative labor power.  And, there is a dire need for applications like this, around the world, and across campus (SIPA, The Earth Institute, Teachers College, the J-School, the libraries are all groups on campus that are investigating mobile apps).

Even if students are required to create something for the public good, at least giving them that option might expose them to a possibility they hadn’t considered. To Prof. Nieh’s credit, he invited me to submit an application idea to the class forum, though I am not sure if any of the students actually followed up on these suggestions.

As I wrote in my email, while VC’s won’t likely chase the students down to invest in these kinds of apps, they might be surprised by the overlapping technical requirements across sectors. And foundations are definitely very interested in innovations in this area right now too.

I am under no delusion that most undergrads could actually complete a useful application in a semester, but a few might. And the opportunity to make a hyper-local useful application (find a book in the library stacks, anyone?) seems promising.  And its getting so easy.

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