Taking the Plunge: Bridging Traditional Print-based Learning With “New Literacies” Designs

Since the last post, our e-book has been published.  We hope you will read it and use this blog, among many other forums, to keep the topics we present there under discussion.  The links on this page will take you to either the Kindle or iBooks versions.  We will continue to use the blog, and later, an expanded section of the website, to highlight some topics we introduce in the book as well as to extend some of the information in the book as new apps and uses arise.   

 In the last post we discussed some broad issues that emerge when school districts or individual schools debate whether or not to go with iPads or other tablet devices.  But in this post, we drill down into point 4 from the last post, a topic that assumes you have made the plunge and anticipate the next move.  If the district or groups in a district have made the decision to go with iPads or other tablet devices and have purchased enough of them so each student has one, at least for part of the day, the decision is a potential game-changer for improving student engagement and learning--that is, with the right planning and design.    

 For now, we set aside commercial e-textbooks, online curricula, and similar predesigned experiences.  Those apps or app-like tools have affordances designed into them that are relatively fixed, some of which are positive and some less desirable.  We also set aside digital versions of print texts that are simple online or pdf versions of the print pages that afford portability--they save on the weight in students’ backpacks by substituting e-book versions for heavy books but do not afford the multimodal learning affordance we discuss here.    

 In this post we focus instead on the more typical dilemma:  Educators have iPads and wonder what apps to purchase, and then how those apps and combinations of apps, including web-based tools, will improve student engagement and learning in various subject areas via teacher-generated lessons and units fit to existing goals and standards.  There  are lists upon lists of recommended apps via all kinds of users, including recommendations from your immediate colleagues.  Some of the apps are more generic and some are discipline-specific.  But you need apps that improve your lessons and teaching by building systematically on what you already do well--the more traditional but highly successful lessons you already use.  

 A recommendation from an educator who uses apps, included a trusted colleague, needs to be contextualized within a broad design.  How do they use the app?  How does it enhance engagement and learning in relation to a particular teaching and learning topic, within a particular domain, and what evidence do they have of this value added?  In short, great apps can fail within some contexts in which their built-in affordances don’t map onto the lesson; and apps that are not even apparently designed for a particular lesson might be ideal, as becomes evidence through use and re-design of a particular lesson, unit, or other instructional framework.       

 Our school-based colleagues who are migrating to iPads are asking:  “What apps should we use?”  the answer, at least in this transitional period, is that it depends on three issues:  (a) how you want to support students’ learning based on what the app is designed to do; (b) the app affordance based on what you want to do with the app, even if the affordance isn’t apparent in the design of the app; and (c) how successfully you bridge what you have done successfully using a traditional print platform with a new digital transformation approach that improves upon the traditional lesson in terms of both engagement and learning. “ 

 The bridging we note in issue (c), one that has been explored for the last two years or so by our school-based colleagues, serves an important, dual function, in addition to responding to points (a) through (c) above. First, It allows for the systematic planning of a lesson using apps or other digital tools based on what is already successful in meeting learning goals.  Second, it provides a way to systematically monitor how well the bridging lesson improves upon the traditional lesson by making explicit both the multimodal affordance and the digital transformation of the lesson--in short, drilling down to a finer level of “value-added.” 

 Affordance design and app affordances--good and bad.  We want to emphasize and repeat a key point from the last post:   Each app, enhanced textbook, or digital version of a previously print-bound curriculum material will provide both positive and negative affordances and may retain or exclude some positive features of traditional print curricula. For example, moving to an iPad note-taking app in place of a paper-and-pencil use of Cornell notes, will afford flexibility in taking notes that may be shared and used to review specific topics--e.g., as a feature of an iBook--but a note taking feature of an app, in and of itself, does not afford more effective note taking.  Well-designed uses of Cornell note-taking with paper layout for that purpose might trump note taking apps because it is based on sound note-taking principles rather than what appear to positive affordance of an note taking app or feature of an app.  

 This same critique applies to things like annotation tools and highlighting tools.  If you, as the teacher, can design a use of an app affordance like note-taking based on sound, research-based practice, then you can bend what could be a negative affordance into a positive direction, but accepting the app feature in and of itself as designed without your own re-design, is folly.  We expand this argument in the book with examples in several places.  We will also expand on how app affordances related to things like note taking, annotation, and highlighting can be re-designed to fit specific instruction later in an upcoming resources section of this website.        

 Teachers as designers.  In the book, our notion of app affordances requires teachers to be designers--not app designers in the traditional sense, but designers of instruction and learning environments in which the use of specific apps is tuned to the learning objectives and engagement affordances of an app in these ways:  (a) in a particular instructional use, and (b) often tied to an existing lesson with a traditional design.  Similarly, we note that teachers as critics of published materials will need to systematically evaluate all affordances--not just design features but affordances-in-use.  We take the position that bridging between traditional print materials and new multimodal media materials must be systematically applied.  

 Bridging designs:  As noted in the last post, in the book we discuss frameworks, planning, and implementation of apps with attention to multimodal affordances against the backdrop of what we know about traditional curriculum, teaching and learning. Here, we are going to start (and elaborate in later installments) the discussion of a bridging framework via a plan we use with our initial licensure students and school-based colleagues. The purpose of the framework is to design something new--a “new literacies” lesson if you will, based on an existing lesson plan or framework:


Rationale:  We are at a crossroads; planning is transitional and transformational rather than revolutionary.  The idea is to improve upon the ways we teach and students learn by taking advantage of new technologies, new media, and new literacies practices while monitoring whether the transformations are really accomplishing intended outcomes.  

The bridging framework represents one approach to designing and re-designing.  It is based on the idea that as we “move from the page to the screen” (Kress, 2004), we need to take advantage of the affordances of multimodality, online spaces, and flexible media tools, yet ground our planning in traditional disciplinary literacy practices.  


Planning/Designing:  The design starts with a bridging framework.  In the framework, you start with a traditional lesson organized around typical interactions with traditional print media.  An easy starting point is to begin with transformations from print to other media.  You might plan possible transformations like transcription, which Kress (2004) notes is 'rendering' the world according to the potentials / affordances of a mode.  You would ask yourself in planning what video, a simulation, or a photo might represent better than a simple print description--in short, what does another modality afford that the one you transcribe from does not. Through Multimodal Transformations, that is systematically how you might explore, for example, visual representations, or visual with print representations, you end up with Digital Forms and Practices.  An example or two is in order.   In the table below, we illustrate three traditional lessons with three corresponding transformations.  

Tryouts and Re-Designing.  The transformation examples are possible transformation from traditional print to representation and working in other modalities that may or may not work as well as you had planned.  Compatible with our idea of app affordances, it is possibility that either the affordance designed into an app or web tool or the way you used the app, does not yield what you had planned.  More likely, it is possible that you simply try apps in various ways with various traditional lessons without systematically looking at transformations and how specific modalities may enhance learning.  In this case, which is now pretty typical when teachers, schools, or districts adopt iPads and then select core apps, the success of the the redesign might be attributable to novelty, general notions of student engagement, or a sense that lessons are more interactive or media rich without attention to why a specific transformation is designed to produce a certain kinds of engagment and learning.  We have found helpful, a more systematic look at what sorts of affordances improve upon traditional print lessons in what ways.   In the next posting, we will elaborate more on how various types of affordances, some multimodal and some related to features of portable devices and texts can be used more planfully to do the bridging transformations related to any lesson in any content area.  



The iPad School Curriculum:  “Value-Added”?

In their relatively brief existence,  iPads are increasingly appearing in classrooms, schools, and even entire school districts.  The appearances are still novel enough to earn spots on the nightly news on local TV channels.  School administrators, education technology integration specialists, and teachers express excited optimism about anticipated improvements in the quality of teaching and learning that the devices will provide.  Their comments appear in video segments between clips of excited students and clips of UPS trucks pulling up to schools’ loading docks to deliver the devices as students and teachers get ready to run down the halls with carts to retrieve the new learning tools that go to their respective classrooms.  Is something wrong with this picture? 


To answer the question, we need look no further than the perennial group of guarded optimists in the education community.  What about educators who haven’t yet jumped into the iPad frenzy with abandon?  What causes them tension and pause?  The hesitant, dare we say, “reasoned” educators, including district administrators, find themselves in a state of adoption anxiety: on one hand they worry about being left in the dust of adjoining districts who have already taken the iPad plunge; on the other hand, they want more evidence that adopting iPads will improve student learning and engagement.  Before they move textbook funds or other monies toward the purchase of iPads and invest time and other resources in teacher development and purchasing apps to install on the devices, educators want assurances that the devices will improve teaching and learning.  Such assurances will not be coming anytime soon. 


This continuing uncertainty about what could be termed the “value-added” benefit of iPads has two sources  (a) the devices promise revolutionary, dynamic changes to school curricula by offering a host of affordances--multimodal multitouch displays, access to almost limitless information, access to social networking and community participation—all complex potential benefits that will require years of research to sort out before any clear recommendations can be made;  (b) some enthusiasts position the devices as replacements for existing curricula, particularly textbooks, as implicitly superior, even though all of standards and assessments that currently guide educational policy and practice are located and articulated in traditional print materials that comprise the historically grounded, institutionalized curriculum. 


An Apple ad for iBooks textbooks and the Author tool used to create the new digital books boasts “there is nothing textbook about them [iBooks]”  The ad also promises that this “new kind of textbook”  is “dynamic, current, engrossing, and truly interactive.”  A reasonable retort is “why would we automatically assume that a non-textbook is better than a textbook? “ Is it safe to assume that textbooks existing before the advent of iBooks textbooks are almost universally inferior?  Our research and that of our colleagues regarding literacy across the disciplines, comprehension related to written text, academic writing, and characteristics of texts that support learning, beg to differ with such a stark conclusion.  Yet, on this site and in our upcoming book we still promote iPads and apps as having the potential to dramatically change teaching and learning.  However, we do so by offering cautious recommendations:


1.   Textbooks are not universally inferior curriculum materials.  iPads and apps must bridge qualities of existing textbooks with the new, dynamic qualities of iBooks. Textbooks are an integral part of the existing school curriculum defined by their content, structure, and organization; they are usually designed to promote learning.  Textbooks, although portrayed as inherently outdated, boring, and lacking in interactivity, are backed by about a century of research supporting features like (a) organization of the top-level structure with coherent prose to make ideas accessible; (b) signaling through headings and subheads to cue important ideas; (c) adjunct aids like marginal gloss, vocabulary keys, advance organizers, review tools, and a host of others features that support comprehension.


2.  Adopting digital curricula as a “replacement” for so-called “outdated” texts is shortsighted.  As teachers, schools, and districts look at multimodal, multitouch devices as replacements for printed curricula, they need to plan very carefully how to both retain effective components while excluding features that do not promote learning.  Recently, a rush of Apple Author-produced curricula has appeared on iTunes U from K-12 educators who have decided that they can publish curricula that replaces existing materials.  But their “curricular design” is often the result of firing before aiming, aided by the ease of design tools that permit cutting and pasting, dragging and dropping media, and moving elements around rather than considering how information needs to be organized, and how specific modalities support certain learning processes.  We elaborate on the needed multimodal affordance designs in the book and will also extend the topic in future blog posts.  


3.  Adopting commercially produced digital curricula is not the most effective route.  New digital texts are likely to continue the long-held notion that “experts” working for commercial publishers certainly know more about curriculum design and development than teachers; the complementary meme is that teachers cannot produce such materials.  Our caveat from point 2 notwithstanding, neither Apple, nor commercial publishers (who unlike Apple, do have a long history of producing print curriculum materials) are uniquely qualified to produce dynamic, interactive, engaging iBooks that also employ sound principles of instructional and learning design.  Moreover, commercial publishers know nothing about your students in your curriculum against the backdrop of your communities.  That said, with the right expertise and careful design guided by research, publisher have the potential to produce engaging high quality materials.  The verdict is still out. 

4.  Step by step--bridging of affordances and modalities is a must:  We take the position that each app, enhanced textbook, or digital version of a previously print-bound curriculum material will, just like other apps, provide both positive and negative affordances and will retain or exclude some positive features of traditional curricula.  In order to establish the true benefit--the “value added,” feature, teachers-as-designers, or teachers-as-critics of published materials will need to systematically evaluate all affordances--not just design features but affordances-in-use.  We take the position that bridging between traditional print materials and new multimodal media materials must be systematically applied.  For example, in the book we discuss frameworks, planning, and implementation of apps with attention multimodal affordances against the backdrop of what we know about traditional curriculum, teaching and learning.


In this posting, we emphasize that adoption anxiety related to iPads and apps will not be eradicated any time soon because it is just too early to do the research to get answers about the educational benefits of the devices.  But we also want to remind our colleagues that many of the “time-tested” components of schooling are more clearly backed by institutionalized practices than by definitive research.  It is time to take the plunge, guided by cautious optimism, attention to above caveats, and, we hope, a collaborative effort to collect and share evidence of the value-added, and not curriculum replaced.           


From Print to Reading Digitally: What is and Should be Afforded?


Against the backdrop of a relatively large body of research that clearly defines the challenges of skilled reading of print, we are now at the turning point, where much, and soon most, of students’ reading of both informational and narrative texts will occur in digital environments either apps, e-books, or online. (For links on the wiki on digital reading practices

Although literacy researchers know a lot about reading print, we are just embarking on research programs involving digital reading that will allow us to complement or supplant what is already known about reading print in general and reading-to-learn in particular.  Leu and his colleagues (Leu & Kinzer, Leu, 2002, Leu et al., 2011) have aptly termed this relatively new phase of research deictic to acknowledge that these new digital literacies are elusive because they are so rapidly unfolding and evolving.  Just when we start to figure out a particular digital context and tools that make it possible, and study them, the whole milieu changes.

Here, we discuss digital reading by first discussing the features of digital texts that distinguish them from print texts.  We then use these differences to describe the literacy practices needed to read these texts.  Finally, we  use our description of these literacy practices to describe the use of apps designed to foster uses of these literacy practices.


1. Digital texts are often multimodal and increasingly more so.  Print occurs with other media in creative juxtapositions, with accompanying links or  navigation tools allowing readers to rapidly traverse modalities by linking to pictures, other graphics, and video.  For example, Wesley Fryer’s e-book, Playing with Media includes links and videos about uses of a wide range of different digital media in the classroom.

As noted, these multimodal texts still include print and require the skills necessary in reading print, but it is likely that the proportion of print text to other media texts will decrease significantly in the immediate future. The key design decisions in creating educational apps and online tools will be selecting the balance of modalities to best represent information, position ideas within a conceptual domain, and incorporate ways of engaging learners to maximize their comprehension.


2.  Textoids are replacing longer printed discourse.  In online textbooks or course systems, as well as in more recent standalone e-textbooks, the amount of longer print discourse is decreasing as pieces of text are written more concisely or condensed into segments.  Originally, the term textoid was a negative one used to label short contrived texts used for comprehension tests.  These little texts were considered to be ecologically invalid--that is, they occurred only in tests, not in the real world of texts, contained too much information, and were not logically or linguistically linked to any other texts.  Now textoids are taking on a whole new life as integral reading bits presented to more flexibly introduce print with other media.  Text messages are textoids, and sms texts can be multimodal textoids.  


3.  Portable texts on portable devices are replacing static, standalone texts.  Up until now, students bought or rented textbooks and carried them back and forth to school.  Even the typical online versions of these have been merely electronic duplications of the pages using, for example, the .pdf format.  But with the more interactive digital reading and writing environments it is increasing likely that readers will assume writers’ stances, write responses to existing texts, or write texts in response to things they read, including peer texts and share their texts online.  

The term portable text eludes a standard definition.  Indeed Adobe’s portable document format, .pdf, embodies the original affordance.  A document that previously took the form of a printed stack of pages could be turned into an electronic document, an image of the print document, that could be easily transported as a file.  So a key part of the affordance of portable texts is being able to easily transport a text to others.  But the complementary and more compelling affordance is that you can continue to change the document, edit it, embellish it, insert queries into it, annotate it and then send it on.  The portable text is evolving as it “travels.”   

These portable texts are already everywhere--look no further than texting.  And look at how they appear and are elaborated upon and reconstructed in social networking.  Portable texts, like the more commercially written counterparts, are usually textoids rather than longer discourse.  But the fact that they are communally constructed, reconstructed, and shared is a huge contrast to static standalone texts that have prevailed for centuries.  

The other affordance is that portable texts can be accessed and changed via portable devices (For an Infographic on uses of digital textbooks in the classroom

For an Infographic on iPads versus textbooks


         4. Readers prefer to acquire news on their mobile devices over print newspapers.  Readers also increasingly acquiring their news on their mobile devices, particularly iPads and iPhones.  A survey found that 88% of users prefer the iPad over all mobile devices for consuming news (Fidler, 2012).  For users 18 – 24 years old with iPads, 84% read news on their iPads for an average of 7.3 hours per week.  60% of all age-group iPad owners preferred reading news on their iPads over reading a print newspaper.

         This shift in how readers, particularly younger readers, are acquiring the news suggests that as school-age students become young adults, that they will also be using their devices for news consumption rather than print newspapers, requiring new and different ways of processing information than is the case with print text.


5.  Intertexts are becoming the nexus of meaning.  With the increase in textoids and the portability of these texts, for example, short news summaries on an iPad or iPhone, previous theories and frameworks for how readers comprehend what they read will be turned upside down since those theories relate to reading extended print organized in artifacts like chapters and textbooks.  In traditional notions of reading emphasis is placed on both the content and authority in single texts.  An important framework that we discuss in our book with relation to digital reading, reading e-textbooks and texts in apps, is intertextuality and intermediality.  

Historically, intertextuality considers any print text as part of the larger sociocultural context--the social textuality,  from which is was created.  Each text is both the absorption of and the transformation of another (Kristeva, 1980).  No reader interprets a single text without this broader social textuality and increasingly, readers are likely to change texts they encounter.  In the case of reading digital textoids in apps or online, or hyperlinking to texts, linking from print texts to media, and using as-you-go note taking and annotation tools in apps, the notion of intermediality--intertextuality with print and other media, applies.  

Understanding and learning are not simply the result of interacting with a single text, or even considering the text within the world of all texts that could have influenced it; rather, the construction of meaning happens from two sources, what Still & Worton (1990) called the double axis of intertexts: new texts enter the intertextual field via authors or via readers.  With portable texts, the number of authors and readers could increase almost exponentially.  So what a student learns and understands is more and more likely to be an intertextual composite rather than as something represented in a single text.  Put more technically, an individual learner’s understanding in this multimodal space, is the integrative, and transformative construction she or he makes from all of the multimodal texts--print, visual, video--read in the learning space (an e-book, an online site, an experience across sites) and interjects into the textual field based on her or his total textual experience.  The learning ramifications of this intermedial transformation are huge.

 The days of delving into a single, linear text are not gone, but they are on the wane.  The key to reading proficiently henceforth is more likely to be the ability to read intertextually, to integrate understanding, across web pages or sites, across e-textbook pages and media spaces, and to construct a new permanent representation via multimodal intertexts (van Meter & Firetto, 2008).  Put another way, reading proficiently, during the actual intermedial reading is the ability to maintain a coherent multimodal intertextual loop (Hayes-Roth & Thorndyke, 1979; van Meter & Firetto, 2008) building on one’s knowledge and understanding, and organizing that knowledge, as one read from text to text across modalities.  In the book we show how this proficiency is so new, and readers have so little practice at it, that it will need carefully planned support from knowledgeable teachers, especially given the wide range of design issues in new apps and other digital texts that might actually impede maintaining the loop.  


6.  Digital texts are situated and participatory. An important aspect of so-called new literacy studies (NLS) (Barton, 1994; Gee, 1996) is that reading, as well as writing and any other literate enactment, is a socially situated practice (Barton, 1994; Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000; Gee, 1996) and is automatically linked to the social institutions and power relations that sustain it.  A text, then, is both an artifact of a practice that created it and a dynamic component of a situated practice in which it is read.  A chapter in a biology book represents officially approved, “scientifically based” research and accumulated knowledge synthesized and reported, in an officially approved and adopted textbook that is aligned to a school district’s standards.  

These “official knowledge” texts (Apple, 1993) comprise the bulk of what has been the key artifact of school curricula--textbooks.  In reading traditional textbooks, both teachers and students have implicitly agreed to one take on an immense, complex knowledge domain through one textual lens.  Against the backdrop of this institutionalized notion of reading, depending on the teacher, the lesson structure, the social dynamics of collaborative groups and the purposes and activities aligned with the reading, the practice of reading a text can be a very rich experience that varies across settings.  Digital reading, portable texts, and intermediality all question and critique the idea that officially represented knowledge is enough or even possible when learners-as-participants constantly construct new texts and modify existing texts even transforming printed renditions into multimodal forms.  


7.  e-book affordances enhance learning.  There are also some digital affordances of e-books not available with print texts that can serve to enhance learning (Gleeson, 2012).  Students can bookmark and highlight sections of a book for later reference and sharing with others.  They can then annotate these highlighted sections to create a repository of these annotations as well as share these annotations with others.  They can search a text for certain words or topics linked to outside reference texts such as Wikipedia, as well as look up word definitions.  And, in using PDF files, they can share and store files using DropBox or Google Docs, as well as employ different annotation tools such as GoodReader or Notability to add comments or drawing on these PDF files.


Within 5 years, give or take, the features of digital texts and digital reading will be at the forefront of curriculum planning in school districts and, hopefully, factor strongly into how we assess students’ proficiencies in school.  These features and the processes they engender will also be the topic of a lot of exciting research.  We can’t wait and will plan to post a lot of it here or otherwise connect you with it. 



Apple, M. W. (1993). Official knowledge: Democratic education in a conservative age. New York: Routledge.

Barton, D. (1994). Literacy:  An introduction to the ecology of written language.  Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (2000). Literacy practices. In D. Barton, M. Hamilton & R. Ivanic (Eds.), Situated Literacies:  Reading and writing in context (pp. 7-15). London: Routledge.

Fidler, R. (2012). Survey description: 2012 RJI Mobile Media News Consumption

Survey. Columbia, MO: Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri.

Retrieved July 19, 2012 from

Gee, J. P. (1996). Social linguistic and literacies:  Ideology in discourses (2nd ed.). Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis.

Gleeson, M. (2012). iPads (or other devices) and literature circles – co-starring Edmodo. Mr. G Online. Retrieved April 7, 2012 from

Hayes-Roth, B., & Thorndyke, P. H. (1979). Integration of knowledge from text. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 18(1), 91-108.

Kristeva, J. (1980). Desire in language:  A semiotic approach to literature and art. New York: Columbia University Press.

Leu, D. J. J., & Kinzer, C. K. (2000). The convergence of literacy instruction with networked technologies  for information and communication. Reading Research Quarterly, 35(1), 108-127.

Leu, D. J. (2002). The new literacies:  research on reading instruction with the internet. In A. E. Farstrup & S. J. Samuels (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (pp. 310-336). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Leu, D. J., McVerry, G. W., O'Byrne, I., Kiili, C., Zawilinski, L., Everett-Cacopardo, H., et al. (2011). The New literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14.

Still, J., & Worton, M. (1990). Introduction. In M. Worton & J. Still (Eds.), Intertextuality:  Theories and Practice (pp. 1-44). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

van Meter, P. N., & Firetto, C. (2008). Intertextuality and the study of new literacies. In J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear & L. D. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on New Literacies (pp. 1079-1092)). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.




App Recommendation Sites/Podcasts: Moving from User/Teacher-learning Perspectives to Student Learning Perspectives in Specific Classroom Contexts  


             Here we offer recommendations about app recommendations.  There is certainly no shortage of sites and podcasts that provide teachers with iOS app recommendations.  The biggest challenge is winnowing the possibilities down to apps that will benefit students the most.  Below, after our quick reference list of sites that recommend apps, we discuss briefly how recommendation criteria are established and discuss why unique educational contexts might not always be adequately addressed by general recommendation criteria.  For a composite list of app recommendations see our book’s wiki .  Our recommendation about recommendations in this posting is that teachers peruse some apps in the recommendation categories in relation to the criteria we discuss. We welcome feedback on your experiences with selecting apps in general as well in reference to some of the apps you encounter at the recommendation sites as well as recommendations on podcasts. 


App recommendations sites:

iEAR Apps Review



Apps in Education

Wesley Fryer: Moving at the Speed of Creativity: Apps

Teach With Your Ipad

iPads in Education

Classroom 2.0

iPod & iPad User Group Wiki

Texas Computing Education Association (TCEA): Apps:

iPads in Schools

iPod Touch and iPad Resources

Cybraryman: iPad Apps

Middle School iPad apps

High School iPad apps

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything


iPad Academy

Best Kids Apps

Fun Educational Apps

iPads for Learning

Ideas to Inspire

AppStart for iPad

Tony Vincent’s Learning in Hand: iPad resources

Best Free iPad Apps of 2012

Smart Apps for Kids

MindLeap: Educational Apps for Kids

iPads in Education

iPad As (recommendations based on uses)

Apple in Education

Learning and Teaching with iPads

Charlie Osborne: 50 Resources for iPad Use in the Classroom


iPad Curriculum

App Annie (data on top selling apps)

TechChef4U blog and app

TechChef4U: Pinterest: iPad Lessons



            Lucy Gray Hightechpectations

App recommendation podcasts.  The following are some podcasts with app recommendations:  

EdReach channel (MobileReach, MacReach)

Appy Hours 4 U

TWIT channel (iPad Today, MacBreak Weekly)


EdTechTalk channel

Today in iOS

iPhone and iPad Alive

The iPad Show

The Daily App Show

EdTech Live



Tech Chick Tips


Criteria for making app recommendations.  The question arises, with reference to these sites and podcasts, on what basis are users making their recommendations of certain apps?  What criteria do they draw on in assessing the value of an app?

In making recommendations, podcast hosts in programs such iPad Today or Today in iOS describe their own uses of apps—they might note apps that they have found useful for gathering information, editing photos, interacting with friends, or watching videos.  They make recommendations because their target audience is typically seeking advice about what apps can best help accomplish practical tasks. 

For audiences of mostly educators, recommenders at Web sites or podcast hosts focus on what they believe may be engaging or might be a productive use of apps in a classroom.  They usually don’t refer to how teachers or students are actually using an app in a classroom to engage students in specific learning practices related to specific tasks. There are also hidden gems on broadly tech-oriented programs like those on the TWiT TV streaming media network.  The programs, both audio and video, hosted by self-avowed tech geeks and tech journalists often make general recommendations based on things like technical quality or ease of use, for example, that might qualify an app for use in educational settings.      

There are notable exceptions to the general recommendations sources that may or may not fit specific educational uses.  At some sites moderated and hosted by experienced teachers, the hosts describe specific ways in which apps are actually being used as well as discussing issues that arise with the use of the apps.  Some example sites in this category include MobileReach and the MacRearch podcasts residing at the EdReach channel, and Lisa Johnson and Yolanda Barker’s programs on the Appy Hours 4 U podcast (see also Lisa’s TechChef4U blog and app, Anna Adam and Helen Mowers on The Tech Chick Tips podcast, and Jeff Bradbury on the TeacherCast podcast.


            Contextualizing the value of an app in terms of student learning.  As noted, some of the app recommendations might not adequately contextualize the uses of apps within particular classrooms activities.  In our book, we characterize the learning benefit in terms of how a particular app use, in a specific learning context, provides students particular affordances in which the use and context are in sync.  In the book we elaborate on why affordances are not the same for all students in all contexts.  And, more importantly, we note that affordances are not static features designed into apps; rather they arise in particular uses of apps for specific purposes.  In order to recommend a specific app based on specific affordances for certain students in a particular learning context entails describing the activities in which students are engaged, the purposes or objectives driving those activities, and the particular and students’ levels of engagement in using the apps. 


            Example: Making recommendations about ShowMe.  In a previous post on our blog, we described the uses of sceencasting apps such as ShowMe to foster collaborative learning in responding to and sharing images.  In our book,

we describe the use of ShowMe by 7th grade students who were studying Mendelian genetics.  Because the teacher wanted students to generate a final product to demonstrate their application of what they learned about genetics to a specific example, the students were asked to work in groups to use ShowMe to create a presentation. She also wanted students to learn to work collaboratively throughout and to collaboratively generate their final product.   Working in pairs, the students created doodle drawings to illustrate their voice-over recordings about certain examples of genetics.  As they were creating their doodles, they discovered that they could easily erase their doodles to revise their images to make them more consistent with their ideas, temporary images served as a form of prewriting and drafting of ideas.  And, the students learned to use the recording feature to collaboratively engage in turn-taking verbal presentations of the meaning of their doodles.  The students were highly engaged with this activity because they liked using the doodling and sharing their presentations with other students.  These students were therefore using the ShowMe affordances to not only convey their ideas about genetics, but to also develop, revise, and communicate those unfolding ideas.

            Useful recommendations about an app such as ShowMe highlight how students like these 7th grade students exploited the ShowMe app affordances of doodling and recording within this particular classroom activity.  This includes providing clear descriptions of the classroom activity so that other teachers have some sense of the context related to the success of using the app.  Describing the context goes beyond assuming that the affordances were simply designed into ShowMe; rather, what ShowMe affords arises within the context of this particular use, and a recommendation for its use by others might be very specific to this use


            Applying app information to lived-world contexts.  It is also useful in making app recommendations to focus on how effectively students can transfer knowledge from an app’s information database to lived-world contexts.  A birdwatcher can call up information about birds from a birding app or someone viewing the stars can use a stargazing app to identify certain constellations.  The effectiveness of these apps depends on their usefulness in applying their database information to lived-world examples.  Can the birdwatcher readily draw up relevant information to identify a certain bird spotted in a backyard feeder.  Being able to recommend the app requires knowing something about that database as well as something about the contexts in which that database is being applied.  Knowing whether an app is useful for some contexts but not others requires ability to contextualize the uses of apps to actual contexts. 


            The need for critical perspectives.  Users have a propensity to simply promote certain apps they already use.  This “positive propensity” stance might cause one teacher to simply recommend an app to a colleague because of its general usefulness.  What is lacking in app recommendation sites and podcasts are dissenting, critical perspectives regarding the limitations of what apps afford in particular instructional contexts.   In critiquing apps, recommenders can note how particular apps are not fulfilling certain expectations for learning given limitations in either the app design or in the design of classroom activities in which the apps are supposed to be used.  For example, some note-taking apps may not provide easy ways to transfer notes into drafts—a design limitation of the app.  This limitation is might eliminated in an app such as Inspiration which provides the transfer by providing both an original notes view and an outline view of those notes.  Or, it may be that teachers need to model strategies to students for moving notes to drafts—the design of the classroom activity.  Such critical analysis serves an important function in improving the ways in which apps are designed as well as how teachers create activities in ways that effectively exploit app affordances.


            Sharing recommendations with immediate and world-wide colleagues.  It is also useful for teachers to share their app recommendations using their school’s online networks with both colleagues in their own school or on the web.  In doing so, they can describe how their particular students, within the uniqueness of their school context, employed the apps, a context with which their colleagues are already familiar.  The fact that multiple teachers find a certain app useful may then result in recommendations to the school tech coordinator or media professional to make bulk purchases of that app.

            Teachers can also request second-opinion recommendations from their colleagues whom they know have more expertise on with certain apps—particularly what those apps afford in specific learning contexts.  An English teacher using a science app can ask a science colleague to weigh in on the accuracy or validity of the information on that science app.  This professional knowledge and experiences can be shared with colleagues through out the world on the Web using social networking/bookmarking tools. 

            In summary, teachers need useful, critical recommendations that contextualize how app affordances emerge to foster learning in specific classroom activities.  Whether apps become effective tools for learning depends on the quality of these recommendations.   It is a great idea to start off with the general recommendation sites, but honing in on the best uses will often require more specific information from experienced colleagues sharing instructional specifics and detailed learning contexts in which apps are used. 



Defining App Affordances in Terms of Social Genres: Visual Collaboration and Argumentative Genres

            In our book, Using iPad and iPhone Apps for Learning with Literacy Across the Curriculum, we posit the need to identify the affordances of iPad and iPhone apps for fostering uses of various literacy practices.   Apps are designed with certain affordances that invite students to employ literacy practices.  These affordances are also shaped by the design of a certain classroom activity.  So, the affordances aren’t simply “in” an app; they are activated and exploited by how the app is used in an activity.

            Fostering transfer of learning based on genres.  Activating and exploiting apps affordances requires an understanding the experiences and practices students bring from previous contexts to their current classroom context—what is known as transfer of practices across different contexts.   Rather than think of transfer as simply applying knowledge from one context to another context, it’s important to also perceive transfer as involving the social processes of knowing how to connect uses of literacy practices in one context to another context. 

            Students make these connections between contexts through uses of social genres defined as typified, recurring social actions.  Rebecca Nowacek (2012) posits that transfer is facilitated by the use of “genres associated with one context…[that] can cue an individual to make connections to knowledge domains, ways of knowing, identities, and goals associated with another, previously unrelated context” (p. 28).   For Nowacek, intertextuality involves the similarity itself between genres while transfer is the active recognition of the potential for using a genre across different contexts (p. 29).  Knowing about and how to use a social genre therefore helps students engage in transfer across contexts.

         For example, the genre of the interview is something that one learns to employ for knowing how to interact as an interviewer and interviewee.  Each time an interviewer and interviewee engage in an interview in a new context, they transfer their social experience with previous interviews to the new interview.  As job-seekers know, each time they do a new interview, they improve in their uses of the interview genre.

            The social genre of visual collaboration.  One social genre that assists with transfer is what could be called visual collaboration—the use of a shared visual image or object that serves to foster collaborative work.  Visual collaboration could be defined as a social genre in that students interact in a systematic, codified manner with a particular image, video, or object in some systematic manner, through, for example, shared turn-taking focused on the same image, video, or object.  When one student notices something unique or interesting about an image, another student knows that they can or need to build on that description.  Over time, students learn to use this genre to collaboratively shared their descriptions of images, videos, or objects.

           The app affordances: Visual collaboration genre.  Concept-mapping, shared note-taking, annotation, screencasting, or video editing apps provide the affordances fostered through use of the social genre of visual collaboration.  For example, in using a screencasting app such as ShowMe or VoiceThread, different students are viewing the same image or video clip to share and react to each other annotations about that image or video clip.  Or, when a student uses the Diigo app to add sticky-note annotations on a specific section of a text, other students may spot that sticky note to respond with their own annotation to the same text.

            Use of the genre of visual collaboration fosters transfer between visual and students’ collaborative verbal or written sharing of ideas.  When students are drawing and sharing their doodles on images using ShowMe or VoiceThread, they use those doodles to draw on their previous use of descriptive talk to reflect on the meaning of those doodles.  Or, in editing video, they can apply their previous use of shared evaluation talk to collaboratively determine the effectiveness of certain edits to make further edits.

             Transfer as a rhetorical act: argumentative genres.  Nowacek (2012) also posits that transfer is a rhetorical act.  Students need to know how to move from the context of interpreting and critiquing images, videos, or written texts to the rhetorical context of convincing others of the validity of those interpretations or critiques.  This requires them knowing how to sell their ideas to others.  As Nowacek notes, “the act of selling is closely tied to the act of reading one’s audience, to understanding what an audience expects and how to either meet or recalibrate that audience’s expectations” (p. 39).   Moving from the context of reacting to or interpreting images, videos, or written texts to the rhetorical context of engaging in arguments about those texts requires students drawing on argumentative genres to know how convincing audiences of the validity of their claims, something that can be a challenge for students.  In analyzing college students’ notes taken in class or in response to readings, Nowacek found that those notes were “dominated by a series of bullet points recording facts.  The rhetorical dimension of disciplinary knowledge—on the rare occasions that it become visible in class—remained invisible in the notebooks… these notebooks contain almost no sense of dialogue, of conflict, of people making arguments (not students, not teachers)” (p. 94).

            A basic affordance of concept-mapping, shared note-taking, annotation, screencasting, or video editing apps is that they make it easy to share their claims with their audiences.  Students can employ their knowledge of argumentative genres to transfer from the context of descriptive reactions to move into a rhetorical context in which they are using their use or descriptions of images/video to convince audiences to accept their claims.  This requires that students go beyond simply summarizing their perceptions of images or objects to framing those summaries for rhetorical purposes.  Based on the claim they are adopting, they draw on their knowledge of argumentative genres to select those particular images they believe will have the strongest impact on their audiences.

                The value of social genres.  All of this suggests the value of perceiving app affordances as mediated by uses of social genres.  These social genres provide the glue fostering transfer from prior to new contexts, so that students are continually improving on how they use apps to enhance their learning.   Teachers can enhance their students’ exploitation of app affordances by teaching them how to employ these social genres, for example, modeling their own use of visual collaboration or showing them how to consider audience beliefs, knowledge, and needs in formulating claims.