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Source of Inspiration

How do you teach a course whose subject matter won’t sit still?

If you’re Bentley CIS professor James Pepe, you make the curriculum as open to innovation as the technology being covered.

The resulting course — Android Application Development — delivers a hands-on, hard-core look at the popular smartphone operating system. Students learn how it works, then apply the lessons to create their own Android applications.

Dreaming in Code

Google’s Android is built around an open-source model, which makes its inner workings free and available to software developers around the world.

“Android is one of the two major breakthroughs in computing in the past several years, the other being cloud computing,” says Pepe.“There are few restrictions. Google has just allowed innovation to happen.”

Access to such innovation is a software developer’s dream. But designing a curriculum around something so changeable is another matter. Pepe met the challenge by creating an “open-source” course: one dynamic enough to keep up with fast-moving technology, and flexible enough to take cues from anywhere, including the students themselves.

“My teaching style is hands on,” he says. “That’s the only way to really understand computing concepts. Don’t come to class without your laptop — you’re going to be lost. And if you have something to contribute to the lecture, I want to hear it.”

Practical Applications

For their first class project, students created an app to calculate restaurant tips, with an extra button to open a web browser. They worked up to more advanced projects, using Google Maps and the SQLite relational database. In the spring 2011 semester, students created apps such as a parked-car locator and a “Boston Area College Information Finder,” which gave details about local schools and links to each institution’s website.

The course — and Pepe’s methodology — wins praise from Bentley alum CIS major Nic Smits, a CIS major.

“He taught the course ‘on demand,’” says Smits. “If a particular Android feature wasn’t covered under the syllabus or in the books, he was happy to bring it into the classroom if we asked.”

Smits left that classroom with technical skills that found a receptive audience among future employers. He joined the Technical Development Program at Liberty Mutual upon graduating in May.