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How to assess the usefulness of educational apps

The right app can save teachers time and inspire their students. Here Justin Smith of Educational App Store, talks about the future of educational apps and what teachers might want to consider when selecting an app for their lessons.

For many teachers, time is their most valuable asset and any time spent off task i.e. away from teaching, must be spent on developing skill sets that enable more time.

Technology has proven in commoditised industries to do just that: save time and increase productivity. However, technology in education, although in its infancy, has yet to demonstrate its full potential.

Currently, the majority of teachers acquire their digital skill set by default for use in the classroom. They purchase their own mobile devices (tablet or smartphone) then through a variety of techniques, such as use of the internet, trial and error and help from friends, gain some confidence in the use of the device and content. However this may be ok at the outset, but what happens when a professional learner with a responsibility for teaching others, needs to progress?

With the form factor of smartphones and tablets unlikely to change significantly over the next few years, the biggest innovation and change is going to come in the delivery of content, specifically packaged software i.e. apps.

Currently there are over 250,000 apps found under the Education category in the major stores. However, the content is heavily weighted towards technical structure, rather than that of integrated learning systems, continual assessment, adaptive activities and analytics.

We are still in an era of pre package, however we are starting to see the introduction of apps that are adaptive and show a basic understanding of the pathways of learning. A good example of this is the language app ‘Duolingo’ that employs the learning techniques of spaced repetition and mastery learning.

Advice on choosing apps

Understanding some of the most effective ways to choose appropriate apps for the classroom can save teachers and schools valuable time and money.

Before choosing any app for the classroom we would recommend that as a teacher that you work your way back from your expected outcomes and are crystal clear on what success looks like. If an app is to be used for a reward at the end of a lesson then ensure that it is fun, but if it is to acquire domain knowledge, then the best apps are those that map the national curriculum.

At the Educational App Store, our community of teachers focus on identifying and matching apps to the national curriculum. They are technology enthusiasts in their subject area and constantly asking themselves:

  • Does the app achieve the learning outcome I require? Is my download decision based on a clear vision of what I would like the child to learn?
  • Does the app fit the learning level of the student, and is it adaptive? For example, if a child demonstrates strong skills in a subject area, do the activities/questions etc become appropriately challenging?
  • Does the app contain continual assessment and analysis tools to allow me to track the child’s learning progress?
  • Has the app’s performance been verified by a fellow teacher? This validates the quality of an app, reducing risk and increasing confidence in any download decision.
  • What context will the app be used in? For example, if it is to be used as a reward for good behaviour, the app should combine learning outcomes with fun activities. If the app is to help a child master a subject, it should be aligned to the national curriculum.

By answering just a few of the questions above, a more effective download decision can be made in a time-efficient way.

If you would like help as a school to find, filter and apply high quality educational apps into the classroom and at home, then please contact us or look at our website for further information.

Written by Justin Smith, Founder & CEO of Educational App Store.

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