Monday, December 15, 2014

App Criteria: Choosing a good iPad app

As a Digital Learning Coach I've been working with several schools as they define what they want to do with iPads. Sadly, most of what I find on their iPads is what I consider to be junk, useless, and educationally inappropriate apps. It seems that previous tech folks, and in many cases, teachers, have simply installed the free app of the day or the latest "Top 20 Apps for Education" without really looking at the app and evaluating what it does. This results in the iPad becoming a toy or babysitter in the classroom.

My philosophy on iPads and apps is based on the SAMR model. I find this model to be very useful in helping to define what I want technology to do. Using the iPad to do something that's just as easily done on paper and pencil doesn't seem like a good use of technology. To me, the iPad should be used for learning tasks that could not easily be done without the iPad. This blog post by Jennie Magiera articulates my thoughts on this very well.

When looking specifically at apps, the SAMR model becomes even more important. Using a commonly found app such as Math vs Zombies as an example, you can see how how this plays out. The app is simple enough: users answer basic math problems in order to kill off the attacking zombies. Students have to solve math, so it's educational, right? Students are learning, right?

The answer is no, they are not learning, for many reasons. The app doesn't track progress for multiple students, the problems are not customized for the student's needs, and there are no math skills actually being taught. This app really only hits the lowest levels of Blooms Taxonomy and the Substitution level of the SAMR model. Math facts could just as easily be learned with a basic set of flash cards.

A much better choice would be to let the flash cards to their job and use the iPad to redefine the learning and the teaching. Use creation apps so students can demonstrate what they are learning and reach that higher level of Bloom's Taxonomy.

What to I consider, then, to be a good app? After thinking about this for awhile, here is my criteria for what I consider to be a good educational app:
  • can be used in multiple content areas
  • can be used in multiple grade levels
  • allows the content/project to be transferred off the iPad, either to a website or through a Dropbox type service
  • can track the work of multiple students, either by saving multiple projects or through student logins
  • engages students at higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy and the SAMR model
This is just my thoughts on what makes a good app and I've listed in a previous post what I think are awesome apps that fit the above criteria. I'm constantly adding to the list (ThingLink!) as I come across new and exciting tools.

Do you agree or disagree? What do you think makes an app suitable for the classroom?

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