Published: Jan. 16, 2019

MSU opens new design lab

Contact(s): Kimberly Popiolek College of Arts and Letters office: (517) 432-1561

A one-of-a-kind collaboration with Apple Inc. is providing valuable experience to Michigan State University students who are designing and developing apps as part of MSU’s iOS Design Lab.  

Using Apple’s challenge-based learning framework as a guide, the iOS Design Lab, which launched in September, offers students a yearlong experiential learning opportunity on campus where they learn about technology, work with technology and design and create their own apps using Swift, which is Apple’s programming and coding language. 

“What we are doing is unique,” said Scott Schopieray, assistant dean for academic and research technology in MSU’s College of Arts & Letters. “There are only two higher education institutions in the United States that are working with Apple in a similar fashion, but we are the only university doing it in this way: cohort-based using a challenged-based framework that walks students through the experience.” 

Challenge-based learning is an educational framework that Apple came up with about 10 years ago where students choose a challenge and work on solving it using technology. It consists of five-stages: challenge selection, challenge refinement, prototyping, prototype creation and reflection. 

“This flips traditional courses on their heads because students are seeking out and leading the projects they want to work on,” said Sarah Gretter, senior learning experience designer at MSU’s Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. “They chose what problem they want to solve and are coming up with an app to solve that problem. It truly is led by their passion.”

The 20 students who are part of the first cohort were able to choose their own teams, with each team consisting of two to six people. They were selected from a variety of majors – from medicine to biochemistry and experience architecture to entrepreneurship – and have a variety of coding abilities – from no coding experience to some experience with coding. 

On Dec. 7,  the teams gave presentations to members of the campus community and Apple employees, who reviewed the apps they are working on. One app, called “Get Home Safe,” will make students aware of possible dangers on campus. Another app, called “Otter,” will offer information on opportunities to give students the experience they need to gain their first job after they graduate, and a language learning game app also is being developed. 

“Instead of just doing a project for a grade and then forgetting about it, we are working continuously on something and hoping for it to become something bigger in the future,” said Kelly Phalen, a junior graphic design major, who is part of the “Get Home Safe” team.

The  collaboration with Apple is helping to reimagine the future of digital learning at MSU. 

“The iOS Design Lab is one of our most exciting initiatives,” said Jeff Grabill, associate provost for teaching, learning and technology. “MSU is immersed in an effort to reimagine ourselves as a learning institution. Part of that effort is to create engaging experiences that anticipate what the world needs from our graduates.” 

Grabill first reached out to Apple and established the relationship. He then turned the project over to Schopieray and Gretter, both of whom created the entire iOS Lab based on their research and the feedback they received from current students. 

“We wanted to have something that was student-centered and student-led,” Gretter said. "We wanted it to be different, and we wanted to innovate with a new approach to teaching that is not your typical classroom where you follow a syllabus. We wanted it to be as close of an experience as students would have in the real world.”