iPhone apps have seemingly leaped the greatest hurtle in technology-assisted convenience over the past five years, and now University of Louisiana at Lafayette students are undergoing first-hand training to create their own in a first-time iPhone Application Development class.

“It’s kind of a pilot class,” said Frank Ducrest, class instructor and system administrator in the university’s computer science department. “It’s a brand new course,” he explained, and in the future, “we don’t really know what we’re going to do with it.”

At this point in the semester, the students–ranging from undergraduate and graduate students majoring in mathematics or computer science–have worked through 15 hands-on tutorials that guide them through the app development process. Once those are completed, the students will create an application first on their own and later with a group.

Whereas years ago, designing something like an app would involve tremendous amounts of coding (the tedious process of spelling out textual commands that ultimately run a program), the challenge has gotten far simpler.

“One of the nice things about modern programming,” explained Ducrest, “is all that code and misery with designing interfaces, you can pretty much do in editors.”

A program called Xcode carries pre-made items like buttons and navigation lists, but its users are still responsible for writing the code that puts action behind each element of the application. For something as simple as an integer-based calculator, for example, there are just under 1,000 lines of coding.

Sounds about as fun as cross-stitching to those whose level of computer appreciation is virtually nil, but those behind the process said they derive a real pleasure from their work.

In The Vermilion’s time with the hour-long class, Ducrest excitedly demonstrated a cell phone game he designed in the ‘90s called “Bugs.” Junior mathematics student Taylor Ducote, 20, of New Iberia also whipped up an ashtray application (as per his roommate’s request) in about 10 minutes, and computer science graduate student Mahesh Vattigunta, 24, from India expressed his hopes to design video games in the future.

“You either love it or you hate it,” Ducrest said. “One of the reasons students are interested in this type of thing, and the faculty and the people in industry who get into this, is that it’s not static. I don’t know anyone who goes home at the end of the day and says, ‘Oh my God, I don’t ever wanna see a computer again!'”

Ducrest also offers the same course geared toward industry professionals, an eight-week program with pupils ranging from casino employees to people working for the Lafayette Consolidated Government.

Although these courses are the first of their kind at UL Lafayette, they’re but another new development in the ever-changing computer science curriculum that aims to stay astride in an increasingly dynamic field. The last implementation was a video game design concentration in 2004, which–in the same spirit-–offers courses that teach students the coding behind different gaming interfaces, such as Nintendo’s Gameboy Advanced or DS Lite.

“It seemed intriguing, there was obviously an interest, and I’d say it’s our most popular concentration,” said Ducrest. Students are allowed to use these 3-credit courses toward their degree, “so they kind of have an incentive to make it a really good game.”

Along with Jim Etheridge, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science, Ducrest said he hopes to next offer a gaming course for the Android (Google’s answer to Apple’s iPhone). But Ducrest noted waning resources in the computer science department mean another iPhone course will have to wait.

“I will do the student version again when I can gain some interest,” he said. “But realistically, timewise, it’s gonna have to rotate.” Ducrest said since there are only four full-time staff members working above more than 300 computer science majors–not to mention the extra time consumed in working to keep the program accredited–the new courses take the back burner.

But it does not necessarily mean UL Lafayette will fall behind the pack. David Lynch, instructor in the college of education, is behind plans to develop an application specifically for the university.

“The cool thing is that we’ll be offering something where it’s basically like, ‘Let’s see if we can do this,’ because that’s the way our gadgets are going,” he said.

Whereas other universities like LSU pay tens of thousands of dollars annually for outsourced application design and maintenance, Lynch explained, UL Lafayette’s app will be designed solely by UL Lafayette students and should be ready sometime in the spring semester.

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