User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Evaluating the Value of Apps for Educational Use

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As of the writing of this post, there are approximately a million apps available.  On my daily Twitter feeds, I see list after list of apps for educational use.

Yesterday, I saw a post from TechCrunch The Top 20 iPhone and iPad Games Of 2011.  I downloaded and have been playing Cut the Rope for two days now.  It has been giving me hours of joy.  See Cut the Rope: Experiments Review. If I was still teaching my 3rd through 5th grade gifted students, I would definitely introduce them to this game.

I have been critical of the use of educational apps and games in the classroom in that many of them have been developed by adults in business ventures.  They are more like worksheets on steroids rather than games and apps for higher-order thinking.  I also wonder as I read through the lists of recommended apps if the kids, themselves, would find them educational and interesting . . . worth their personal time in using and playing with them.

As such, I test out technology tools and games from the standpoint of a user rather than an educator . . . asking if I’d like to use it if I were one of today’s young students.  Based on my own experiences as a gamer, educator and kid at heart (one of my 4th grade students gave me the compliment, “You haven’t forgotten what it is like to be a kid.”), I developed my own criteria for evaluating the potential of apps for educational use and engagement:

  • 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?

As I said, I am currently spending my time playing Cut the Rope (physics and geometry).  Past personal addictions have included Scrabble (language arts) and building in Second Life (geometry and spatial reasoning).  Friends’ and colleagues’ game and app passions have included World of Warcraft (economics, social bargaining/cooperation) and Angry Birds (physics).

Excluded from the list is a question about educational value.  A good educator can extract learnings from any app that meets most of the criteria discussed above.  If educational value can be extracted from Angry Birds, then it is possible with almost any app😀

It is important to note that one person’s app and game joys may not be another person’s, but most offer educational opportunities.  An educator can leverage what students are using and playing in their own lives and explore ways they can be integrated into the curriculum to learn different content area concepts.  The role of the educator is this era of learning of that of facilitator.  What a great way to facilitate learning – to leverage what the learners are using in their own lives to teach broader content-related concepts.

The bottom line becomes focusing on quality rather than quantity – to find those apps and games that have potential for long term use and engagement.  Following a constructivist model of education, an effective educator can assist students to extract their own meanings from an app of personal interest, helping them make larger world connections (which includes addressing those ever present content-related standards).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm

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