For my first App Ed Review blog post, I wanted to share how I became interested in educational apps. I’m writing this post with the purpose of sharing my interest in apps and who I am as a teacher with my readers.
I got my first iPad in the summer of 2011. At the time, I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Tennessee (Go Vols!). I enjoyed playing with the device – surfing the web, downloading different apps, and using it recreationally. However, I wanted to fully integrate it into my teaching. So, when the fall semester of 2011 began, I made a new school year resolution (Yes, I make those J) to use my iPad instead of the computer I was provided while teaching. This decision forced me to use my iPad to show websites, my lesson plans, different class materials and assignments, presentations, and so much more. I quickly began a practice of using my laptop to write my lesson plans and then transferred them over to my iPad using both the Dropbox and QuickOffice apps. I bought the dongle to connect my iPad to the projector and in no time I was zooming in and out of different materials, opening and closing apps, and flipping through documents in front of my students during class. What happened, I soon realized, was that my students were more engaged and started brining their iPads to class and using them for academic purposes. It was very much like a “I Do-You Do” scenario. My students and I were learning how to use our iPads effectively together. It was an unintentional benefit of my resolution, and my students noted it in their course evaluations.
After I graduated from UT (again, Go Vols!) and landed my first professorship at Coastal Carolina University (now, Go Chanticleers!), I continued to use my iPad to teach. However, while teaching a graduate-level literacy class in the spring of 2013, a student asked me the best question I had ever been asked, which was: “How do you tell a ‘good’ app from a ‘bad’ app?” Truthfully, I did not know. Although I had been using apps for some time at that point (and in this class, I did mini-lessons about apps called “app-etizers”), I had never considered the characteristics that separated quality apps from inferior ones. I researched to see if there were any such rubrics other than the common 1-5 star rankings, and I found one created by Walker that he used as part of his dissertation and another one used to assess apps for special education. However, neither of these rubrics was of the quality I sought. So, I met with a colleague, Corey, and we collaborated to put together a rubric for evaluating the quality of instructional apps based on previously conducted research. (Two years later, the rubric was published in an international journal, and you can access that article by clicking here.) At this point, I returned back to my class and told them about my experience looking for rubrics and what I had found. Though I thought this was fascinating – especially because the local school district that employed several of my students had bought them and all their students iPads to use – they accepted it and left it alone. Corey and I, however, did not.
As that semester closed, Corey and I decided to embark on the project called App Ed Review. After creating our rubric, we decided that over the summer I would use it to review educational apps and he would build a website to host those reviews. To prepare for writing those reviews, I visited different educational app review websites, and I quickly learned three things:
- We needed a teacher-friendly method for classifying apps;
- An app rating is not as good as ideas are for using the app that is being rated; and,
- App reviews need to be brief and meaningful.
First, if teachers can’t find the app they want to use easily, they will not spend time looking for it. When I visited other app review websites, I was constantly annoyed at the guessing game I had to do sometimes in order to find the app I wanted. Second, if I read an app review and did not learn how to use it in my classroom immediately, I did not care how the app was rated. To me, I quickly understood that using an app is more important than its ranking. Third, like my fellow teachers, I do not have the time to read long reviews. I wanted succinct information about the app. After I came to these understandings, I began writing app reviews.
For the second half of this post, click here.