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Java ME and BlackBerry wireless devices in the classroom

Posted by qmahmoud on April 17, 2007 at 10:07 AM PDT

In Fall 2006, I have successfully integrated the use of Java ME and BlackBerry wireless devices into two programming courses at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto. The courses are Computer Programming I (a first semester course) and User-Centered Programming (a third semester course).

For each course, I had about two weeks of lectures (4-6 hrs) and two weeks (6-hrs) of labs. That was enough to get students started with Java ME:

  • Computer Programming I: Part of the final assignment was to develop a Java ME mortgage calculator for the BlackBerry
  • User-Centered Programming: The final assignment was to develop: (a) a quiz (marked on the fly) for the BlackBerry, and (2) another Java ME application that interacts with a Per CGI script for retrieving students marks based on their student ID#s.

Students in User-Centered Programming worked on a project to develop a system for linking doctors and pharmacists. Two groups were able to develop fancy clients for the BlackBerry for an extra 3.5% towards their final grades.

In summary, teaching computer programming in the context of simple mobile applications using Java ME provides a motivating and inspiring framework for students, and raises the level of excitement and satisfaction. I encourage everyone to integrate Java ME into their courses to introduce students to a programming model different than the desktop. In the desktop market, the application is deployed on a platform similar to the one on which it was developed, but in the Java ME space, the application is developed on a desktop platform and deployed on a totally different platform.

If you'd like to learn more about this experience, please see the poster and slides from my talks at ACM SIGCSE2007 and ACMSE2007 available at The full paper is available on the ACM Digital Library.

The system for linking doctors and pharmacists is based on a personal story. One evening I walked into a Wal-Mart pharmacy with a prescription for my wife, but the pharmacist wasn't able to decipher the doctor's writing and asked me to go back the next morning as he needs to call the doctor's office. Instead, I decided to go to a Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy (they charge exorbitant dispensing fees!) and the pharmacist there wasn't able to decipher the doctor's writing either, but she asked me to tell her some of the symptoms that my wife is having and she'll try to guess the name of the medication. :-) So I did, and her reply was something like, well I know the medication prescribed but the dosage is too high so she still needs to call the doctor the next morning. Wouldn't be nice if there is an electronic system for linking doctors and pharmacists to securely manage prescriptions and other patients information? Q.