by Timothy Gard, TDSB Educator & MSL Report Contributing Writer
Visual programming has created a huge interest in the art of programming in schools around the world for some very good reasons. It’s intuitive, empowering and engaging. If you think of robotics and Lego and Scratch and Kobi Game Lab from Microsoft you completely understand where I’m coming from. And as neat and powerful and pedagogically sound as those programs are they don’t have the ‘real world’ application that would take them over the top. Vizwik is that kind of visual programming tool! It’s easy, powerful, and you can build mobile applications using their very robust and user-friendly online suite of tools to create an actual working application for a real-world scenario or context. Vizwik is the brainchild of Agora Mobile and they’re based in Moncton, NB. Their focus is to create a social network for discovering, developing and deploying mobile applications. Now, anyone can develop for mobile, and there’s no need to be a programming guru to do it.
Do you need to know how to code using Vizwik? Nope! With Vizwik the emphasis is on providing a robust framework where students can ‘play’. And pretty much that’s what they’ll do using this seemingly effortless online programming environment. Students can work independently, or in a social context using the social tools built into VizWik. And did I say that they could work towards building an application that can be used on an actual phone? No need to upload the application to iTunes? Or Google Play? If ‘seamless’ means doing away with peripheral items that get in the way of doing the very thing that you want to do, and efficiently, then Vizwik is on the right path.
Vizwik is free. Teachers can easily create accounts, create classes and students can sign up using a unique username and password. They will then enter the class code that has been provided to the teacher so that they are ‘connected’ with the appropriate class. The students are then given a tutorial to complete and lesson. There are class lessons provided for the teacher, which is an excellent way to ensure that all students are exposed to the key elements of the program, not to mention ensuring that teachers who are not familiar with programming develop some level of confidence in working with this ‘different’ kind of learning.
Vizwik has also provided teachers with deep – but not too deep! – Online resources to help guide their progress through to the end. Indeed, if you’re going to provide a visual programming environment that requires little to no programming experience then you need to provide intuitive help resources. And Vizwik does just that. If using their templates, following their well laid out plan to create an app isn’t enough you can seek help via the embedded social media experience. And there are various guides to ensure that you are able to work through your problem or issue and resolve them quickly so that you can get back to building your masterpiece!
If you’re new to programming there’s no need to worry. Vizwik has pretty much thought of everything, which makes this online programming suite so enticing. A workflow for a first time user would involve creating a project using a template. Once you understand the user interface, which is pretty easy to start working with, you can start to work with the media panel. The media panel includes a simulator, script editor, and a view editor. Currently the simulator supports the iPhone 5 in the Apple development cycle. I’m sure that over time the current models will be supported as well. If you want to view an excellent overview of how Vizwik works, visit their YouTube channel and watch the Basic Introduction video.
I think that Vizwik is well worth your time investigating if you plan to venture into the world of programming and you’re not interested – or inclined – in learning the ‘hard way’. From what I’ve observed Vizwik is most definitely worth your time, especially if you wish to introduce programming into your classroom program. I think it’s probably more suited to grades 6 and up however if you’re looking for something to help differentiate your instruction for a student who is highly motivated and perhaps gifted, then you could use Vizwik for a younger grade. To find out more and to investigate the details of how to create your own mobile app, create an account and delve into this very powerful world. Who knows, perhaps you’ll be able to create an app for your school! If you’re at all interested in exposing your students to some real-world problem solving and 21st Century learning where theory meets real world, Vizwik can help!