Apps and Maps BITs 2014 Summer Program

Over the last three years, Temple University’s Urban Apps & Maps Studios has been running Apps & Maps BITs Summer Program. This year, 95 girls and 84 boys are participating in the program. They are working with over 30 Temple students who are supervised by 10 Temple faculty members from Information Systems, Geography and Urban Studies, Electrical Engineering, Computer & Information Science, English, Arts and Entrepreneurship. From July 1 through August 5, these students will learn three essential digital literacy skills – design thinking, computational thinking and spatial thinking – by working on a number of different hands-on projects. The program is funded by EDA, Knight Foundation and Philadelphia Youth Network

This year’s cohort represents the largest one in recent years, thanks to several information sessions that we ran in North Philadelphia in partnership with Navarrow Wright, who is a role model of our students and an active voice for digital inclusion. In his talk shown in the video clip below, Mr. Wright mixes his own personal experiences and his professional experts on IT industry to communicate to parents and students why they should learn new digital skills. 

As technology is becoming cheaper and easier to use, the barrier to enter into the creative economic activities is rapidly coming down. Traditional university-based technology commercialization programs require years of graduate school training, a host of PhDs and post-docs, and millions of dollars worthy of investments and labs. These projects and programs were not accessible to the members of the urban community in which our university is situated. Unlike those traditional university projects, Apps & Maps program offers a new type of technology-based  commercialization path that was not previously available to urban minority community in the past. Information technology in many ways has been one of the main cause of “deindustrialization” of urban America. Through automation and off-shoring, both of which are enabled by information technology, industrial bases in urban cities left the cities. However, the deep penetration of digital technology into the fabric of today’s urban community offers an opportunity to revive the urban economy through citizen entrepreneurship leveraging digital literacy skills and their keen understanding on various challenges in urban market. What we need is to provide an opportunity to these young men and women in Philadelphia to try to dream and build something that capture their own imaginations. Urban Apps & Maps is designed to provide such an opportunity.

This year, our students will work on the following projects:

  • Building Bluetooth controlled RC cars
  • Internet enabled device to measure airborne pollution
  • Mapping Philadelphia Urban Ecology (vacant lands, natural parks, urban forests and heat islands, urban farming and food access, water supply)
  • Designing a mobile app for freshmen on Temple campus
  • Designing a mobile app for Catcha (web-based shoplifting prevention network)
  • Designing a community book sharing web site
  • Information visualization of the General Internal Medicine Department of Temple Hospital
  • Designing an app for North Broad community
  • Theatre production for native Philadelphians
  • Mapping streets arts and post industrialization of Philadelphia 

As the importance of digital technology and its potential for economic development is increasingly recognized, there are growing number of programs that teach programming skills to the youth. While clearly coding itself is important, tools to build solutions without proper skills to identify and contextualize the problem and design a solution is even more important. This is why Apps & Maps emphasizes design thinking and spatial thinking together with computational thinking and begins with a design workshop. On Day 2 and Day 3 of the program, students started the workshop by visualizing their identity using various objects available. Students all chose different ways to express their aspirations, dreams and hopes.


 The design task was to reimagine the lunch experience on Temple campus. Through the workshop, they learn how to conduct collaboration, empathic observation, prototyping, persona building, and brainstorming.  Through the workshop, they learn to answer the five key questions: 

  • From the observation, what inspires you the most, good or bad?
  • Who are the affected stakeholders and their relationships?
  • What are the unmet needs and why are they important?
  • What is your solution to meet the unmet needs?
  • What are the resources you need to create and sustain the solution?

Below are some of the pictures from the students working on the project during the workshop.


The importance of design as also reenforced by the first guest speaker, Cey Adams, a graphic designer, visual artist and author, who was the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings and is known for his legendary work for hip-hop artists like Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige. I did a short interview with him before his talk to our students in which talks about various aspects of design and why design is so important in today’s world. 


In weeks to come, we will continue to share more stories of our projects and participants. 

Professor | Writer | Teacher Digital Innovation, Design, Organizational Genetics Case Western Reserve University

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