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My Journey Into Educational Apps – Part 2

While I spent the summer of 2013 reviewing apps, I also spent time thinking about how to classify them. As Corey and I collaborated on the website’s design, we wanted to produce a logical way for classifying apps. As such, Corey and I recruited Judy Dix to help us think about organizing educational apps by their purpose, and we produced a framework for doing so that we adopted for App Ed Review. (Also, we had this framework published in a scholarly journal, which can be viewed here.) With the rubric and framework in place, I reviewed the first 30 apps while Corey built the website, and we launched the website in October 2013.

The launching of that website was a huge moment for us. Although our content was limited, we thought our app reviews and the way we presented them were thoughtful. At this point, Corey and I agreed that I would continue writing reviews and we would together present the App Ed Review website at different conferences at state, regional, and national levels. Now, as we approach posting our 500th review and have made dozens of presentations, I want to share some ideas I learned about educational apps with my readers.

First and foremost, as I mentioned previously, an app’s value is not based solely on its rating – whether it is found using a 5-star ranking system, the rubric Corey and I made, or another source. Rather, the value of an app is based on how it is used in the classroom to support student learning. If a teacher is able to use a poorly designed app meaningfully with students to advance their learning, I see that app as having value.

Second, apps are not “cure-alls” or some magical silver bullet that will solve educational problems and challenges with student learning. An app, by definition, is a computer program that can be loaded onto a device without having to restart it. With that said, I view apps as digital resources teachers can use to advance student learning. Nothing more and nothing less. Apps are just new teacher resources. They will not replace the teacher in the room.

Third, new educational apps are released almost daily. It is impossible to keep up. Additionally, already-existing apps are often updated, and some of those updates may completely redesign an app. So, I have learned that it is usually better to learn a few apps deeply as opposed to know a little about a lot of apps. The more teachers know about one app, the more meaningfully they can use it in their classroom. Plus, if teachers continually have students use several different apps in the classroom, students may never learn how to use one app proficiently.

Four, the variety of apps available to teachers is amazing. If teachers want an app for a specific function, the odds are it is out there. When looking for apps to review, I often type in the function I want for the app (e.g. grade book, exit ticket, Shakespeare, or the periodic table) and follow that term with “app” and “iTunes” (… or Droid, or Windows) directly into a search engine. That usually pulls up a link to the app where I can read about it (if I’m on my computer) or directly download it (if I’m on my device).

Five, there is a great debate about if and when we should be using apps and tablets in education. In my view, technology does not de-evolve and I think tablets and apps are here to stay. However, there are some very real, potential dangers (or at least implications) for using devices. Common concerns I have heard is that tablets (maybe more so smartphones) are affecting the ways in which young people communicate, young children are able to swipe before they can talk, and technology is causing our society to become more introverted. While these concerns are observable, I do not see them as “bad” – rather I see them as change. Just as language evolves, I see the way that technology has (re)shaped society as being progressive. As Thomas Kuhn explained, when a paradigm change happens, people who cling onto the old paradigm will eventually change too (or risk becoming obsolete). We do not know exactly how technology will impact our society, but change is to be expected. To me, I see the challenge to us educators as being the need to integrate these emerging technologies effectively into our teaching practices. We know we can’t ignore them, but we can use them to our advantage.

In close, I want this blog to be a place for educators to share our experiences using educational apps – our successes, failures, and lessons learned. On this blog, I plan to share my own thoughts, stories, and tips about using educational apps. If you would like to guest blog, send me a line at [email protected].

Todd Cherner is a co-founder of App Ed Review (www.appedreview.com) and a professor of education. As a teacher educator, Todd teaches current and future educators using 21st century instructional methods. Todd deeply believes that preparing students to use tomorrow’s technologies begins by them using emerging technologies in today’s classrooms. Todd holds a doctorate in teacher education from the University of Tennessee, a master’s of education from Clemson University, and a bachelor’s degree in English education from the University of Central Florida.