Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University
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We were recently approached by Mike Kelly, Professor at Robert Morris University about using Corona as part of his classes. Mike discovered Corona, quickly became a big fan, and decided it was a great tool to introduce his students to mobile development.

Robert Morris University now has 100 licenses of Corona SDK and will be using our platform for several courses. Read on for more detail about why Mike chose Corona, and how he has used it to teach college students.

Tell us about Robert Morris University.

Robert Morris University will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, having been founded in 1913. We were originally established as a business-oriented educational institution, and gradually expanded by acquiring different campuses throughout the state of Illinois. Currently, we have one campus in Peoria, one in Springfield, and eight in the greater Chicago area, with our headquarters on State Street in the heart of Chicago. By having multiple campuses, we can better work with a more diverse array of students throughout the state.

The mission of Robert Morris is to provide career-oriented education for students in Illinois. We want students to have a real idea of what they want to do with their lives, and our programs give students that extra boost for their career – for example, all students are required to complete internships prior to graduation. We tend to enroll about 6,800 to 7,500 students throughout the year depending on the quarter, and we’re always looking for new experiential opportunities for them in the work force. We want their experience at Robert Morris to make them better suited to step into the professional world.

What is your background?

My educational background is in fine arts and I hold an MFA from the University of Michigan. I had focused on creating the illusion of motion in my paintings, but I was always secretly disappointed that they couldn’t really move. The answer appeared when I was able to acquire an Amiga computer in the late eighties. I could finally bring that dream to life as much as the limited power, color resolution, and disk space of that computer allowed. Despite its limitations, I could draw and paint and then bring those paintings to life through frame by frame manipulation.

In 1993 I found Macromedia Director on a Robert Morris computer. I discovered that I could talk to my 2D animations using Lingo, Director’s coding language, and I never looked back. Coding didn’t come naturally to me, but I wanted to turn my animations into interactive experiences so I bit the bullet. By the early 2000’s, I was able to create 3D games complete with Havok Physics. I was given permission to work Shockwave 3D game creation into our curriculum, and our students produced some pretty impressive 3D games that can be downloaded from my website. I used my personal copy of Director to produce educational games and interactive kiosks for museums like the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Historical Society, Newberry Library, Dusable Museum and Bronzeville Children’s Museum. Working with Director at school however ended with the erosion of faith and support in Director and the rise of Flash. I was able to reluctantly make the transition to ActionScript to teach Flash game construction and web design. More recently, Flash has had its own troubles, and simultaneously, the rise of cell phone and tablet games became a new, powerful draw for me.

The next logical step was to learn to do programming for such devices. I had many doubts after taking an XCode/Objective C class that I would be able to break through the almost universal fear of our design students about coding. I left the class with many more questions than answers. Luckily, Corona and its faithful community was able to answer all of the questions I needed, and I was able to create an original game’s first level in less than eight hours and a full blown version in less than a week — complete with a menu, six levels of increasing difficulty, score keeping, a countdown timer, physics, image and object animation, and an emitter that simulates exhaust from the jet-pack of my hero (a lunar flying squirrel).

Which courses and educational tracks will be using Corona SDK?

At the Institute of Art and Design we will have an inaugural “My App!” course next quarter in which students will learn how to create apps and games with Corona for the mass-consumer or business market.

Another course called “Multimedia for the Web” is a campus-wide class offered every few quarters that all of our design students are required to take. Originally, this course was structured around Flash/ActionScript 3, but we’ve recently taken out the Flash instruction and converted it to an app creation class centered around Lua, Corona’s coding language. Although Lua is similar to ActionScript, we have found it to be easier and much more powerful. This tends to be one of our more popular courses, with over 100 students enrolled university-wide each time it’s offered. Corona will also be featured in our e-publication classes as a more robust, additional approach to our current reliance on Adobe InDesign.

What inspired you to use Corona in these courses? Were there any comparable alternatives?

I did a lot of research to find something that would help our design students break through their fear of coding. I’ve taken coursework in XCode and Objective-C, and I knew that using those tools would be a daunting task for the typical design student. I thought cocos2d might be the answer, and even created a tutorial handout for a first lesson. When I finally discovered Corona, it blew cocos2d out of the water – much in the same way that it did Flash, which I had used previously to teach app porting.

When I found the samples, videos, and written tutorials for Corona, I was completely exhilarated by the brevity and sensibility of the Lua coding and the ease of the user interface (compared to XCode – yikes). I soon realized the robustness and power of Corona and I became absolutely convinced that we had to build our apps/game creation classes around it. Code testing in real time with the Corona simulator completely surpassed XCode’s. I could imagine the excitement of my students as they easily performed feats like adding physics with a few lines of writer-friendly coding. I felt an immediate intimacy with the code that harkened back to my days with Director Lingo. I also appreciate the fact that our students will be able to afford Corona once they graduate and will join the incredible growing army of Corona-powered app, e-pub and game designers with the experience that they gain from our classes.

Robert Morris University’s President, Michael Viollt, has indicated his desire for our Graphic Design students to be able to produce interactive e-books, online magazines, etc., because of the increased employability of students with such abilities. Corona not only makes this possible; it makes it incredibly more probable. Corona Labs is even giving our students permission to professionally publish one app per student per quarter to the App Store and Android Market, as long as it’s published under RMU’s name.

Finally, I was bowled over by the enthusiasm of the Corona community of forums, blogs, code sharers, and tutorial creators (including many free video versions). These are individuals with an incredible zeal for this interface who are eager and willing to share their expertise for Lua code examination and game concept advice. People like Peach Pellen in Sydney, Australia even provide hand-holding sympathy to help “newbies” get through the initial barriers of finding their voices in a new language – even one as user-friendly as Lua.

With such a rich availability of online resources, they will have so many places to turn after they leave my class that I will not worry about them.

How specifically will Corona be used in the classroom?

On the first day, I will be showing my students the video of Robert Nay, the 14-year-old interviewed on Good Morning America, who used Corona to develop “Bubble Ball” which was downloaded more times than “Angry Birds.”

I plan on keeping it pretty organic, and will consider new options as I learn more myself. I mostly want to instill in my students the same feelings that I have of adventure, exploration and deductive and inductive cobbling that creative coding can provide. It will beat the hell out of XCoding them for three quarters to get half as far…

I will guide them to the multiplicity of available online resources, including the vast array of useful third-party tools and sample code. Then, we’ll progress to building a game with Corona together, as a class where they will use simple exercises to learn to add all of the things I mentioned from my own game creation experience and more like video, falling snow and animated textures. Finally, the students will build their own games in small groups using all of the resources available. We will aim to have them publish their apps like a real developer studio. Who knows, some of them may also end up on Good Morning America!

By the end of class, the students will have created a full game from start to finish which they can proudly put into their portfolio – an important step for them to progress into their professional careers.

What is the development background of the students who enroll in these courses?

Most of them will lack any app development coding experience, but will have had an introduction to basic web design (HTML and CSS). It’s likely they will understand some rudimentary coding. We may even get a few students with some programming experience from a past Flash/ActionScript 3 class.

Once they’re in the course, they’ll certainly learn how to program, and also grasp the ideas behind programming such as coding structure.

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