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 http://tinyurl.com/clxfsy9 . 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:
Charlie Osborne: 50 Resources for iPad Use in the Classroom
App recommendation podcasts. The following are some podcasts with app recommendations:
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 http://edreach.us, and Lisa Johnson and Yolanda Barker’s programs on the Appy Hours 4 U http://www.blogtalkradio.com/techchef4u podcast (see also Lisa’s TechChef4U blog and app http://www.techchef4u.com, Anna Adam and Helen Mowers on The Tech Chick Tips http://tinyurl.com/6nn4ea podcast, and Jeff Bradbury on the TeacherCast http://podcast.teachercast.net 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, http://tinyurl.com/8dmqrzn 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 http://tinyurl.com/6p4folr 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.