Dr. Carolyn Gentle-Genitty breaks into the app business with the help of two BSW students

One of the alluring aspects of a smart phone doesn't have anything to do will making calls. It is the App store, a place where whims, interests and needs can be satisfied with a click.

Stuck in an airport and want a game to combat the boredom of waiting for a flight? Not a problem. The App store offers any number of apps as diversions, such as the Cool Buttons app, which offers more than 2,000 sounds, words, phrases, illusions, jokes and other things we didn’t know we couldn’t live without. Games with amazing graphics and sounds just beg to become an icon on your phone. Want something more serious, like collections of essays, poetry and history? Click away.

Dr. Carolyn Gentle-GenittyIn our rush for immediate satisfaction, we rarely stop to think of who was behind the app’s creation and how many hours it must have taken someone to create it.

Unless you are Dr. Carolyn Gentle-Genitty of the Indiana University School of Social Work. She earned her understanding of what goes into an app in the crucible of developing one. Up until April of 2011, Dr. Gentle-Genitty was pretty much like everyone else, a click-and-use person when it came to apps.  

That all changed when she received an email asking if she would be interested in developing what’s believed to be the first study app for social work. At first Dr. Gentle-Genitty dismissed it as a hoax. A few days later her curiosity about creating a study aid available to anyone with a smart phone led her to reply to the company that contacted her. Why me, she asked STUDYBYAPP. The company explained it had researchers who looked online for people who are publishing articles and came across several of her publications as well as comments by some of her students about her courses. In short, they saw her as someone who might be interested in developing a study app for social work.

Dr. Gentle-Genitty did her own research and looked at the other study aids the company had produced and decided she up was up for the challenge. From her classroom observations, Dr. Gentle-Genitty knew students were already using their phones to look for information, so she wondered why not give them what they are looking for? When she shows up for a class, invariably the students have their laptops on and their phones out. “Everyone is tied into technology,” Dr. Gentle-Genitty said. “I wanted to find a way to bring that into the school environment,” she said.

As Dr. Gentle-Genitty considered taking the company up on its offer, the school year was winding down in April of 2011. How hard could it be, she wondered. Dr. Gentle-Genitty figured she could knock it out in a month.   She soon discovered how wrong she was.

With the help of two BSW students, Crystal Barnett and Tracy Beer, Dr. Gentle-Genitty set out to develop a study guide that would be similar to an introductory class to social work and cover topics people might like to know, such as what is social work and the definition of social work. Dr. Gentle-Genitty 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 working to create flash cards for the app, Dr. Gentle-Genitty and her small team discovered the process might not be as easy as they thought. The flash cards were to be the electronic version of the old-fashioned flash cards: A question on one side and with a click, it would turn over and show the answer. Because social work is so dynamic, there was no one set answer to some of the questions. In their first attempt the answers to the questions involved more text than could be displayed on a cell phone screen. Then they tried reducing the amount of text, but then the answers were too short. After spending two and a half months working on 250 flash cards work, they finally discarded them entirely. Instead, the forged ahead with material for 10 chapters with a multiple choice test.

 As they began doing research for material to be included in the chapters, they faced another issue. Getting the material was the easy part. It all had to be rewritten so it was all original material and not just copying someone else’s work. By this time, Dr. Gentle-Genitty was teaching two summer school courses and preparing lectures for those classes.

By August, Dr. Gentle-Genitty began to wonder whether if the app would ever see the light of day as she had to get ready for the fall semester of 2011. “I don’t think this is going to work,” Dr. Gentle-Genitty told her two BSW students. They convinced her otherwise. “They said we’ve come this far, let’s keep going. It’s going to be good for people around the world. They started with their social work stuff trying to help me out.” She relented and they kept working on the app.

By fall, they felt pretty good and we’re thinking of adding clip-art pictures to the study app until they realized they would have to get permission to use any pictures they hadn’t taken themselves. So, they grabbed their cameras and took their own pictures for use with the app.

Some students in her classes have downloaded the app and have even cited in papers they have had to turn in. She could tell instantly whether they were using the assigned text book for the class or they were using their phone app because their phone was on and material was readily available.

Dr. Gentle-Genitty’s Social Work app debuted in December and so far has been purchased for $2.99 about 100 times. Dr. Gentle-Genitty has done little yet to market the app and its biggest sales have been in Europe, Australia and even in Asia. So for social work students or would-be students in those countries, they are listening to the voice of Crystal Barnett, who just received her BSW degree and is now in the School’s MSW program, as she reads the content on the study app.

Now with an understanding of how the app process works, Dr. Gentle-Genitty is working on another social work app, 101 social work theories. “They (students) are googling to find out about theories and there are tons of theories in general, but not on place to find that information,” she explained.

 “I think we are in a position to fill that gap pretty easily.” So in the near future when students wonder if “there is an app for that,” for social work theories, the answer will be, why yes there is.

Press Release Contact:
Rob Schneider
(317) 278-0303