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IUPUI professor and students create social work app

Carolyn Gentle-Genitty
Carolyn Gentle-Genitty View print-quality image

Published:

June 5, 2012

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A professor and two students at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis have developed what is believed to be one of the first smartphone applications for an introduction to social work.

Professor Carolyn Gentle-Genitty’s Guide to Social Work app -- an introductory social work course, complete with a test -- debuted in December. Smartphone users have downloaded the $2.99 application about 100 times since then.

The average smartphone user rarely stops to think of who is behind an app’s creation and how many hours went into that creation. Gentle-Genitty, who teaches in the Indiana University School of Social Work at IUPUI, discovered as a first-time app developer that it took her team hundreds of hours in a trial-and-error process to adapt their ideas to the technology.

Her app adventure started in April 2011 after she received an email from the company Study by App. She learned that Study by App researchers had read several of her online publications along with comments from some of her students about the courses. Based on her work, the researchers contacted Gentle-Genitty thinking she might be interested in developing a study app for social work.

When she shows up for a class, her students have their laptops on and their phones out, Gentle-Genitty said. Because students were already using their phones to look for information, she wondered why not give them what they are looking for?

“Everyone is tied into technology,” Gentle-Genitty said. “I wanted to find a way to bring that into the school environment.”

With the help of two then-social work undergraduate students, Crystal Barnett and Tracy Beer, Gentle-Genitty set out to develop a study guide that would be similar to an introductory class to social work and cover topics of interest.

Gentle-Genitty originally envisioned an app that would have 10 chapters, flash cards and multiple-choice tests so people could gauge their understanding of the material.

As they began creating flash cards for the app, Gentle-Genitty and her small team discovered the process might not be as easy as they thought. After spending 2½ months working on 250 flash cards, they finally discarded them entirely. Instead, they forged ahead with material for 10 chapters with a multiple-choice test.

The team used its own resources in the production, including taking pictures for use with the app. Barnett, who just received her BSW degree and is now in the school’s MSW program, said she turns to the app in her studies. She said other students in her classes have downloaded the app as well and have even cited it in papers.

Gentle-Genitty has done little yet to market the app, and its biggest sales have been in Europe, Australia and Asia.

Now with an understanding of how the app process works, Gentle-Genitty is working on another social work app, 101 social work theories. “ (Students) are Googling to find out about theories, and there are tons of theories in general, but not one place to find that information,” she said. “I think we are in a position to fill that gap pretty easily.”