On Saturday Stephanie Hellings (LSE IMT Infrastructure) and I did the teaching part of the BCSWomen Appathon Guinness World Record Challenge.

So, on a Saturday I went to work. Giddy with anticipation. To work. And it was one of the best work related days I’ve had in a while.

Stephanie had co-ordinated the day superbly, organised a great bunch of helpers, a lovely lunch, generally made sure everything ran smoothly. Steve Bond (LSE IMT Training), official time keeper, blew the whistle at 10.30 sharp and I took the start of the lesson.

What’s “android”? What devices have you brought? Have you ever programmed using Scratch? Java? Do you like playing games on your computer? Are you ready to create your first app today?

It wasn’t difficult to enthuse the audience – of all ages, all abilities – everyone wanted to be there, wanted to learn (and wanted to break that record), they wanted to create. The lesson outcome was deliberately kept simple: using the MIT AppInventor we got everyone to create a button made of a cat picture, which, when pressed would make a sound. Simple perhaps, but it isn’t often that you see the faces of a woman in her thirties, a man in his sixties, a 12 year old child, light up as they repeatedly press a button that shrieks meow back at them, knowing that they *made* their phone do this! When Steve counted us down to end the World Record Attempt, the moment he blew his whistle 40 participants filled the NAB Thai Theatre with meows. And across the UK, up to a 1000 participants were doing exactly the same.
The rest of the day then continued, mostly given over to everyone trying to create their own apps. Matthew Taylor (LSE IMT Integration & Data Management) and his daughter created a school quiz app; Imre Bard (LSE Methodology Institute), his girlfriend Isabella & two other participants created an app that asks you to categorise architectural features (Gothic or Baroque); others concentrated on playing around with delaying the meow of the cat, or adding a meow sequence – both apparently far more difficult than you’d imagine.

This is what made this Saturday extraordinary and memorable for me: it was an example of the perfect, the *ideal* teaching experience. Every participant was driven by a desire to learn and an urge to create. It was entirely free, entirely open, entirely voluntary. There was no competition. The group learned as a group. Nobody was bored or disappointed, and there was no pressure on anyone to achieve a set outcome. There was no pressure on anyone staying till 3pm, but most did. Some of the younger children were happy playing on their ipads, listening to animal noises, drawing, spending time with their parents. Some of the younger adults took the basic AppInventor principles and ran, flew off with it, leaving us helpers – certainly me, less so Steve – far behind (I hit on this ‘ruse’: “my lesson to you is this, look around you, who looks like they know what they’re doing? Go up and ask them for help. Don’t be fooled by my being a presenter, I already know less than you do.”)

This is what teaching and learning can be like. Not always – that kind of excitement, enthusiasm, giddiness would be physically and mentally unsustainable. But it’s good to know it can be had, it is an ideal to strive for – and I’d happily “give up” another Saturday for this in the future.

We still don’t know if we managed to break the record, nationwide. We might find out on Monday. But it’s a totally unimportant concern right now. The day itself, the experience of being in that room with such brilliant participants was, for me, corny a it sounds, reward enough.