Six essential considerations when choosing apps for the classroom

    Published: 31 August 2017

    It’s a new school term and a good time to consider the use of your school mobile devices in the year ahead, and whether you’ll be using them as effectively as you might.

    In my work, I have the pleasure of visiting many schools, and I am always interested in finding out how different settings are using mobile technology. The most widespread device, in the schools I work with, is the iPad. I have to admit that my heart sometimes sinks when I hear that the main use is internet research.

    1301233178-300px.png There’s nothing wrong with using iPads for internet research, but if that’s the extent of your use, I think it goes without saying that you’re not getting the most from them. A bit like buying a Swiss Army knife to only use the tweezers.

    This post is not going to be a list of apps – I’ll save that for another day. Neither is it intended to be a guide to effective use of iPads or tablets in general, as I don’t want this post to become an entire book! What I am going to do is offer some advice around choosing apps for use in your classrooms – the questions to ask yourself and things to consider. A good set of thoughtfully chosen apps will, of course, lead to the devices having a bigger impact on the teaching and learning – the reason you got them in the first place.

    1.  Less is more. So often, I find that when the devices were set up for the school, a huge number of free apps were installed. They usually end up as a jumbled array of random apps, spread across multiple screens. Nobody in the school seems to know what they all do, but they most certainly act as a distraction to the pupils. Who can blame them for wanting to find out what all these apps do (when you are wanting them to concentrate on something else)? A smaller number of carefully chosen apps, that staff know how to use, will be far more effective.

    2.  You get what you pay for. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great free apps out there. Have a look at my previous post on programming apps to see some that you might choose to support primary computing. But you cannot get away with entirely free apps if you want to get the most from the device. Many free apps are supported by advertising, which can be a distraction or may even be inappropriate for the classroom. Or, the free app may be a limited version of a better, paid-for one. Apps are generally inexpensive, but remember that you need to purchase a copy per device – you cannot pay for an app once and put it on all your iPads! When using the Volume Purchase Programme for Education discounts are usually offered when you buy 20 or more licences for an app, which can lead to significant savings. So do budget for buying apps as part of your ICT development plan, as you would with other software.

    3.  Don’t just substitute. I think one of the mistakes some people make, when choosing apps, is to think about what they are already doing and then try to find an app to do the same thing. If the children are successfully achieving something with no technology, or through a different technology, then do we need an app for it? In his SAMR model, Rubens Puentedura refers to Substitution, where technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change. He goes on to describe Redefinition, where the technology allows for the creation of previously inconceivable tasks. So ask yourself what your devices and apps could offer to the learning experience that is not already being, or cannot be achieved in other ways? You can read more about the SAMR model here:

    4.  Don’t focus on ‘content’ apps. What I mean by content apps are those with the actual content you are trying to teach, within the app. One of the main reasons for this is that there isn’t a huge amount of apps specifically designed for the curriculum we are teaching. Much of that content is found online or still in books. For example, if you were teaching history and searched for history apps, you would probably be disappointed by the range of relevant apps available. Again, that’s not to say there aren’t any, but it’s not a comprehensive range. So instead, consider the wider use of ‘open-ended’ apps that can be used to support any subject or topic, through the creation of content. Children could make a digital book about the topic to show their learning, they could create a video or a podcast, a comic-book or animation, all with apps that are not targeted at any particular subject area. This will also help your budget go much further, as a single app might be used right across the curriculum.

    5.  The ability to export. So your pupils have worked hard to create an exciting, multimedia, digital book about volcanoes, using an open-ended app as described above. The problem is, the only way to view this work is within this app on the particular device each pupil was using. Choosing apps that allow the work to be exported outside the app will be really helpful when it comes to viewing and assessing work. For example, on an iPad, can the work be saved to the camera roll as an image or video (from where it is easier to take off the iPad)? Just be careful with sharing via cloud services, as I’ll explain below. Also, it goes without saying that eSafety should be taken into consideration when choosing apps. For example, be mindful of apps that allow the upload of created content to public online galleries, with no restrictions in place (such as a password) as this may clearly present a risk, even more so if it enables communication with other users of the gallery.

    6. Don’t forget the small print. Before using an app with your pupils, do check whether there is an age-limit or whether parental permission is required. Sometimes, even with apps that are clearly designed for children’s use, if you read the terms and conditions and/or privacy policy of the app, you’ll find something about use by children under 13. This is usually due to the need to comply with the U.S. ‘COPPA’ regulations, and particularly applies where an account may be created for different users of the app, for which personal information may be shared. Whether there is an age limit or not, it’s important you comply with current data protection laws and ensure that the personal information of the pupils is protected accordingly. So don’t have children sign-up for anything without very carefully reading through the small print and being satisfied that their data is protected.


    By making these considerations part of the process when choosing apps for your school, you will hopefully end up with a more useful, smaller and better value range. With the right CPD, staff will use the apps more effectively, children will be more engaged in their learning, less distracted by too many apps and you will find that you are getting more from your mobile devices.

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