Monthly Archives: September 2013

Evaluating Apps, Putting Them To Use, and Knowing How Students Use Them

Over the summer, I try to take a few steps back from everything library related and recharge my brain by gardening, walking, and swimming with my dogs.  I try but fail, because I continue to follow all kinds of library blogs and wind up reading the works of other librarians.  There’s amazing work being done in using technology to make the learning process a creative process.  Teachers are flipping classrooms, librarians are turning libraries into maker spaces, and scientists who study the brain are making us all rethink how our students learn.  It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming, and we use technology as one tool to keep students engaged and make learning as exciting as it really should be.

This summer, I came across some blogs that I thought gave very practical information that could be used right off the bat. For example, here’s one problem and one online solution:  My school board is giving iPads to Grade 6 and Grade 7 students, and my team of Pedagogical Consultants was asked to evaluate and suggest apps. My question was how do I evaluate an app properly.  What are the criteria?  I found help from instructional designer, Mayra Aixa Villar’s column, 7 Essential Criteria for Evaluating Mobile Educational Applications

1. Content.  Within content, there are six areas that should be evaluated: “…synthesis, presentation, accuracy, relevance, its connection to the learning objectives and its adequacy for the target audience.”

2. Personalization – Does the app engage the learner, contribute to the acquisition of new knowledge, and supply real-life experience by being interactive?

3. Feedback – Does the app give meaningful, timely and complete feedback?

4. High-order thinking skills – Does the app teach skills and/or provide a situation in which the learner can solve a problem using certain resources

5. Usability and technical performance – Have the interface elements been appropriately selected? Is the app easy to learn and pleasurable to use?

6.Interactivity and engagement – Does the interactivity and relevance of actions allow for long term engagement?

7. Integration of social interactions – Villar points out that people use mobile apps to search, gain information and be connected with others.  To what extent does the app allow for this?  Can students safely interact with one another with this app?

In the column, Villar uses these seven criteria to evaluate the app, Nutrition Guru.  This makes it easy to see how the criteria can be used to make a checklist or rubric of one’s own to systematically evaluate potential apps for classroom use.

Next problem, what kinds of creative ways can apps be used to in the class?  Forget the drill and kill stuff.  I’m looking for that higher order thinking that’s mentioned above.  Here’s another fantastic list of classroom activities in the Language Arts:  23 iPad Alternatives to the Book Report

What I like about this article is the simple way that garden variety apps are listed and linked with a variety of creative ways for students to convey what they think about literature that they’ve read. By using Screenplay, Puppet Pals, and/or iMovie, students can write a screenplay, rehearse it and dramatize a scene from the book that they’ve been reading.  High school students can use thewallmachine.com  to make a fake Facebook page for a character in a book.  Students can write songs reflecting a character or plot line using GarageBand.  There are twenty more ideas listed in the column with a variety of options for apps to use for each idea, everything from writing an alternative ending to the book to making a silent movie of the story.

Finally, it’s always good to have an eye on the big picture. The Nielson company came out with the results of a study in August that showed how students use tablet devices in their studies: A Computer in Every Classroom and a Tablet in Every Backpack? (see table below) I found it very interesting that the lowest use (12%) was for creating and presenting documents/presentations. With the implementation of iPads, we hope that the devices will be used  creative tools, not an end in themselves.   As teachers look for more creative ways to allow students to find and present information, that 12% statistic is liable to change

.Use of tablets

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