Top Tips for Finding the Right Apps for Teaching & Learning

Are you struggling to find good apps for the classroom? With so many new options available, it's more important than ever to be thoughtful about your selection. Here are a few tips to assist your school or district team in selecting apps:

Create a Professional Development Plan

Many teachers will need support about how to use apps more effectively. Incorporate the use of the app into professional development that's targeted to a concept or learning strategy. For example, a session on formative assessment could incorporate an app like Geddit, which is a tool to provide instant feedback. Other topics for professional development could include online collaboration, digital storytelling or blended learning. Identify the apps that support the instructional objectives and avoid designing professional development sessions to fit a particular app.

Think About Updates

If you're in a 1:1 initiative, how are you going to handle updates for the apps? Will the purchased app work when a new operating system update comes out? Who will need to be involved with the updates? Will students be able to update the app themselves? Think about the logistics before you have to deal with the issue.

Research the Costs

What is the cost for the full product? Is it a district or school subscription fee based on the number of users? What happens to your content when you stop paying for the service? Is there a way to access usage statistics to monitor how and how often the product is being used?

Look for Apps that Run on a Variety of Devices

Don't lock yourself into an app that will only run on one type of device. Try it out on all your devices. In many training sessions that I lead, there are a variety of devices in the room. It helps to know ahead of time that the application will work on all (or most) devices.

Consider How Easy it is to Manage in a School Setting

Can the content that students create using the app be saved? Where is the content hosted? Can you easily share this content? Can the app be used with an existing student account (like Google) or will students need to create new user names? Is an e-mail address required? Don't make the process so difficult for teachers and students that no one wants to use the app.

Be Aware of Web Filtering Issues

Is the app going to be hard for the IT department to support because of web filtering?  When our engineers go under the hood to investigate filtering problems they often find a long list of IP addresses that need to be unblocked to allow the app to work. Chasing around those IP addresses can be a full time job.

Be Sure the App is Well Supported

If it’s free, is the free version robust enough to support the needs of the teachers and students? Can you find the name of a company representative to call or e-mail? If you can't, don't investigate that app any further. The products that we use the most in our district all have representatives who call me regularly to ask how we're doing. They look at our usage statistics and provide suggestions and ideas to improve our use of the product.

Does the App Address a Need?

The most important question to ask first: Does the app address a specific curriculum need? Equally important: does it address it well? If you already have products in place in your school or district that address that same need, does this app improve upon them? Free or inexpensive does not equal good. A small set of great tools is far better than a hundred tools that aren't effective.

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