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Now there’s a class for that app

October 18, 2011

The Department of Computer Science at Northern Illinois University is partnering with Lextech Global Services to offer a series of courses that will teach students how to write apps for the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and other mobile-device platforms.

The five-course program—with one course devoted to each of the three smartphones and two comprehensive courses that will cut across all devices—will  be offered to undergraduates and graduate students and lead to an NIU certificate in mobile device programming.

While the certificate program is expected to be officially launched in the fall 2012, a course in app programming for the iPhone and iPad and another course for the Android are already in progress at NIU this fall. Courses will be offered next semester in application programming for the Windows Phone and Android.

Students in the courses are gaining skills in one of the hottest new areas of computer programming.

“This is an innovative partnership, both in content and in form, with Lextech donating staff time to train our faculty members so they can deliver the courses,” said Christopher McCord, dean of NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It allows NIU and Lextech to bring together their distinctive strengths and to accomplish something that neither could do on its own.”

Based in west-suburban Lisle, Lextech Global Services is a “serious mobile apps” firm that helps clients with mobile strategy, visual app definition and development of serious apps across iPhone, iPad and other mobile platforms.

(Left to right) Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Christopher McCord, Lextech CEO Alex Bratton and Computer Science Chair Nicholas Karonis.

(Left to right) Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Christopher McCord, Lextech CEO Alex Bratton and Computer Science Chair Nicholas Karonis.

Lextech President and CEO Alex Bratton and Allison Snell, the company’s director of excellence, visited the NIU campus last year to talk to students. They also met with Nicholas Karonis, chair of the Department of Computer Science, and discovered a common vision for bridging the gap between the needs of corporate America and higher education.

By the day’s end, the three had outlined the five-course sequence for the mobile apps certificate program.

“Among skilled mobile apps developers, there’s virtually zero unemployment because they are in such high demand,” Bratton said. “This effort by NIU and Lextech will prepare students to be immediate workplace contributors and fill a substantial workforce void. While there are many corporate ‘sponsors’ of higher education, I saw a need for a more active contribution of our team’s real-world expertise.

“I’m also hoping that increasing the number of Illinois college graduates with these skills will ultimately help our state keep more of its best and brightest technology minds,” Bratton added. “With a concentration of talent here, entrepreneurs in high tech fields don’t need to go to the West Coast to start a business.”

NIU’s Karonis said he believes the new certificate program will attract a wide range of students.

“These courses will be popular, not only with computer science majors but also with students across campus who are interested in developing applications,” he said. “The courses also will provide a quick way for working computer professionals to retool and make themselves more marketable.”

Karonis said his department has wanted to offer the certificate program for some time, and Lextech provided “the nudge we needed.” This past summer, NIU computer science faculty worked with Lextech developers to learn the latest details in smartphone programming.

“The Lextech partnership provided us with the industry perspective and allowed us to rapidly develop the course content and structure of the certificate,” Karonis said.

“App development is not the same as traditional computer programming,” he added. “And writing an app for an iPhone is a different task than writing an app for an Android—they speak different languages. Still, there are a number of issues that are common to all smartphones. I think the certificate program we’ve developed is unique in its comprehensive approach.”

NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Provost’s Office and Information Technology Services worked to develop a special smart classroom for the coursework, with each workspace equipped with both Apple and Microsoft computers.

Karonis said his department is investigating the potential for offering the certificate program online or at NIU outreach centers in Naperville, Hoffman Estates and Rockford. The two classes offered this semester on NIU’s DeKalb campus each have a full contingent of 16 students, with course availability to be expanded in the future.

“I’ve had ideas, and I’d like to make a few of my own apps,” said Ross Hettel, a senior computer science major from Peoria. He is taking the Android apps class this semester.

“It’s an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up,” Hettel said, adding that apps are changing the way devices interact with the world. “To have experience with it, I just feel it’s going to be invaluable.”

More detailed information on the apps courses and certificate program is available online.

About Lextech Global Services

Lextech serves the enterprise with award-winning mobile app strategy, design, development and support. With a special focus on the mobile workforce, Lextech helps clients create user-centered, visually stunning apps against tight deadlines. Proven processes and experience connecting mobile apps to external resources (sales teams, legacy systems, hardware, etc.) make Lextech one of the most sought after mobile firms in the world.

To learn more, visit or follow the company on Twitter @LextechApps.