Jayne originally wrote this for Getting Smart as a guest blogger
How to Find the Magic in an Educational App/Updated 2016
The concept of how to find the magic in an educational app came up recently during our weekly EducationalAppTalk forum. The question arose, “Why should educational apps be field-tested?” Teachers With Apps field test apps with kids on a regular basis and have found that most often it is the kids who find the MAGIC. The magic happens when really good content comes together with a fun and totally engaging interface. Neither can stand-alone; adults often miss critical components that children find naturally in the course of their play. Developers can incorporate the best content in the world, it could be aligned to the Common Core State Standards, it could be research-based, and it could be all wrong for the age group it was designed for. Then we have apps claiming to be educational, with all the bells and whistles pulling out all the stops… curriculum never comes up and once again the developer and their app fall short.
My partner and I have been on both sides of the fence. We started out making educational apps then eventually morphed into creating Teachers With Apps (TWA), an educational app review site. TWA is unique in that we field-test all the apps we review with a cross-section of children. We feel we cannot realistically write a fair review without seeing an app in action. Naturally, you need to have a cross-section of testers, in the approximate age range the app is best suited for, in order to get a strong gauge on an apps educational potential. We don’t use a rubric, but rather a checklist based on how well an app supports learning, its usability, and the app’s quality. Additionally, we look at whether there are too many distractions going on or if an app is just plain stagnant. Long shelf life is another important determining factor for us in choosing an app to review. We are more concerned with the quality of apps we review rather than the quantity.
Formal education often takes the play out of education and many teachers teach the way they were taught. Apps have the potential to change all this and individualize learning for students. Magic! Experiential learning is what really makes learning stick. Cooperative learning is powerful and many app developers are seeing that the single-player game can easily be modified to allow for group play.
The traditional school model is driving content, apps have the built-in options to be project based. “Make something” and bring out what Jackie Gerstein calls “Education as it should be: passion-based.”
We like Gerstein’s list of criteria to evaluate apps:
- Does it have cool graphics and an interesting interface?
- Is there a game-like and/or creative intent to the app?
- Is it fun and entertaining?
- Does it make the user laugh with joy?
- Does it require creativity, ingenuity, imagination, and problem-solving in its use?
- Do the tasks get more complicated, requiring more skills as the user works through the game-app?
- Does the user have the opportunity to gain points and level-up?
- Does it have an addictive quality (yes, I believe in this) in that it calls for continuous play?
- Does using the app create a state of flow?
- Are there opportunities to connect with other users for socializing? problem-solving? strategizing?
Finding the right apps can be tricky. In a recent check on the stats in the educational category of new releases in the app store, it shows that the landslide has not stopped. That’s where our work at TWA comes in, we are trying to educate the people of the world purchasing educational apps that content is king, but it needs to go hand in hand with a FUN and totally engaging interface. We promote the best in educational apps, one review at a time.