Who Trains the Trainers?

Short Programs breaks new ground with two spring courses aimed at educating the educators.


It may be glib to say there’s an app for everything these days, but what may seem small in scope can have an extraordinary global impact, whether it’s an app developed by young people that gives their peers a way to quickly reach out for help in managing their stress and anxieties or an app that quickly provides accurate information for donating relief funds and the correct needed items in the aftermath of a disaster.

That was one of the original goals behind the creation of MIT App Inventor, an Android-based, open-source application that transforms the complex language of text-based coding into visual, drag-and-drop building blocks so that even an inexperienced or young programmer can quickly create a basic but fully functional app. This increased accessibility and democratization of software development empowers people, especially young people, to move from consumers of technology towards becoming its creators.

These goals are also the driving force behind the new MIT Professional Education − Short Programs course, MIT Master Trainers Program in Education Mobile Computing, taught by Hal Ableson, renowned professor of electrical engineering and computer science, a pioneer of the open source movement, and one of MIT App Inventor’s original developers; Josh Sheldon, director of strategic programs for the MIT App Inventor Project; David Wolber, professor of computer science at the University of San Francisco; and Karen Lang, education and business development coordinator for MIT.

Thirty people who attended the course in March 2016 came from 18 countries across five continents and a variety of backgrounds including K–12 educators, university professors, and business professionals.

“The fact that we had thirty people and eighteen countries represented spoke to how amazing and varied the backgrounds, resumes, and experiences of the people who took this course were,” says Josh Sheldon, “I was honored that such a talented and enthusiastic group of people with so much experience of their own were willing to come and take part in the course.”

This course was notable for being MIT Professional Education’s first online and on-campus blended Short Programs course, and the path to achieving Master Trainer certification was rigorous. Attendees were first required to take a challenging six-week MOOC, Mobile Computer with App Inventor—CS Principles, offered through Trinity College via the edX platform in October 2015. The MOOC focused on the computing science principles behind MIT App Inventor, including how to design and create Android mobile apps, how computer science principles apply to algorithms, programming, the Internet, and society, and how to think creatively, analytically, and abstractly about computational problems.

Students who successfully completed the MOOC could then apply for a 10-week online MIT course that began in January 2016 with participants focused on developing their mobile app development pedagogy. All participants were responsible for producing either a tutorial for learning an MIT App Inventor project or an agenda/outline for adult training.

Finally, the participants came to MIT from March 24–26, 2016, for a capstone workshop to consolidate their prior 16 weeks of learnings. The three-day workshop included lectures, discussions, and collaborative group work that covered topics from technical set-ups, debugging strategies, and troubleshooting to design thinking process, pedagogy, and creative trainings.

“The workshop was inspiring both in content and in our ability to meet and work with the creators of the software,” says Sue Maddock, a teacher at Berwick Academy who participated in the course. “That connection allowed us to feel part of the process rather than consumers of the product. The interactions with the participants were informative and I suspect the professional connections I made will be lasting.”

Upon completion of the program, the participants joined a community of experts, known as MIT App Inventor Master Trainers, certified to instruct both teachers and students via App Inventor workshops, consult with educational institutions, and design and conduct training programs of their own.


In June 2014, over 150 American universities pledged to support the White House’s Building A Nation of Makers initiative at the first White House Maker Faire. For many institutions, that meant revitalizing many of their existing initiatives and policies, but for others, it meant building their Makerspaces from the ground up.

With over 150 years of a “learning by doing” reputation and more than 45 dedicated Makerspaces on campus, MIT was already positioned as a leader of the maker culture movement. From March 21–23, 2016, 30 educators and business professionals from across the United States, as well as Mexico and Brazil, attended the new MIT Professional Education - Short Programs course, Creating and Maintaining Safe and Productive Makerspaces That Matter to Students.

The course, led by Martin Culpepper, professor of mechanical engineering and MIT’s own “Maker Czar,” was launched with the goal of educating individuals who are charged with creating or maintaining Makerspaces at their institutions in the best practices necessary to obtain measurable impact from large investments, as well as how to allocate and invest money, space, and other resources to obtain their desired results.

“We are opening a Makerspace in the fall. This course gave us the confidence we needed to know how to move forward and what needs to be done. It also provided us with contacts for ongoing support and information gathering,” says Melissa Foreman, assistant director, First Year Programs & Learning Communities, and learning community program manager at the University of Connecticut. “We look forward to being able to give back in this way in the future, once we get up and running and build our own experience.”

The course examined proven methods for getting students excited about using Makerspaces, including peer-mentoring communities. Participants deepened their understanding of the fundamental principles of Makerspaces, the differences between various spaces, the importance of culture and community, impact assessment, effective safety systems, and the relationship between safety and complementary policy, insurance, legal, and regulatory issues.

One of the primary goals MIT cultivates within its Makerspaces is the idea of student-run, student-centered spaces that enable a more relaxed and nurturing environment to foster creativity and innovation. Features of these spaces include 24/7 accessibility to the space, few if any rules, and a broadened definition of what a Makerspace is (MIT has expanded its definition to include, for example, cooking spaces).

“Everything we learned can immediately be applied to what we’re doing on our campus. It incited excitement about creating our Makerspace and creating a community with our users,” says Karen Skudlarek, educational technologist at the University of Connecticut. “We’ve already sent out emails to all involved in our new Makerspace and we’ll be sharing what we learned from it: specifically, the need to let the students ‘own’ the space and let them learn.”