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The Innovation LabOne year ago this month, Youth Radio’s Mobile Action Lab, was at the beginning of a new chapter. The Mobile Action Lab had been in operation for two years already and through some important partnerships, it had flourished. After two years of very hard work, our youth had learned about the joys and pains of the app development process. Working with MIT’s App Inventor team, they learned about prototyping applications. Through a wonderful collaboration we had with Smule, our youth team learned about design cycles, user-interface, wire-framing, and testing as well as the actual intricacies of iOS app development. To make a long story short, the Mobile Action Lab had spent two years immersed in the process of app-making through the help of industry professionals and major partnerships, and the youth team was ready to take the next step.

Source Code

And then last October, we started teaching them how to code. In the past year, our students have experimented with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Python. Adding this component to the program was eye-opening. Some of our youth really took to certain languages, while others decided to dig in to Photoshop after seeing how they might have to change their code based upon their designs. Still others shunned front-end web development altogether and decided they wanted to learn more about Python and integrating their app concepts with APIs such as the Google Places API. In the last year, the youth of the Mobile Action Lab started to see the world just a tiny bit differently as the program shifted slightly to respond to their own requests.

The Difference Programming Makes

How has this affected our youth? In short: tremendously.

  • One of our older youth grew wings and went off to a tech-related internship outside of the Youth Radio, in part due to what he learned here in the Mobile Action Lab.

  • Another of our older youth is currently being considered for an internship at a tech startup in downtown San Francisco.

  • One of our interns who had never thought about programming before joining us in April of this year is now taking an AP Computer Science course.

  • Another intern developed an app and business model for his senior project and graduation requirement.

  • Additionally, two of our interns spent the summer developing their own application for release while being supported in the process by two amazing mentors from Ask.com. They intend to release the app in time to put on their college applications this fall.

We often talk about the success of a program such as ours by looking at the number of applications released. One of the core missions of the Youth Radio Mobile Action Lab, though, was to expose youth to technology and build their expertise and self confidence.

After seeing the growth of our youth over the past three years, the true success comes in seeing them unafraid to state their mind and dive in to areas they had previously never even contemplated. The true success comes in seeing our youth truly innovate, not only in our own program, but in their own lives.

This brings us to the next chapter of the Youth Radio Mobile Action Lab. Our youth have shown us they not only want to innovate, but they need to innovate. They demand innovation in the stories we publish as well as the way in which we publish them. Who are we to deny them? In response, The Mobile Action Lab is now changing, just as technology does, to The Innovation Lab. Our youth will be working with other youth inside the organization, in particular our Newsroom, to innovate on storytelling. And I for one am looking forward to what our youth do with this newly repurposed mission.

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