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1 App

Roger Matthews, Memorial University of Newfoundland

2 Definitions and background

The word app, the accepted abbreviation for the term application, refers to a computer application that is smaller in size which can be quickly downloaded and installed on mobile devices without having to be rebooted (Cherner & Lee, 2014). According to Cherner & Lee (2014) the current leaders in providing apps for individual use are the App Store by Apple and Google Play (formerly the Android Market) for Android both of which were founded in 2008. These services, as of October 2013, offer over six hundred thousand free apps and nearly four hundred thousand paid apps for download (Cherner & Lee, 2014). There are many ways of categorizing apps across services and sites and categories can range from general functionality, free vs paid, specific populations, specific devices, specific purposes and many more (Douglas et al., 2012). As of January 2013 the category ‘education’ represented the second most number of total app downloads thus far (Kucirkova et al., 2014). Cheong et al. (2012) observed that with the wide scale availability of mobile devices today; they are an “obvious choice of technology with which to engage students” (p. 98).

3 Affordances

A key affordance offered by apps is mobility (Yu-Chang and Yu-Hui, 2013). These mobile apps often allow the user to access data both on and off line and they are designed to work best on smaller screens, thereby increasing their functionality and appeal for educators and learners (Jonas-Dwyer et al. 2012). Sharpe (2012) postulated whether it is accessibility itself that is greatest app whereby it makes “learning opportunities more accessible” (p. 219). Mobile apps are a part of students’ daily lives meaning their use in the classroom would more accurately reflect students’ real world use of technology, thereby enhancing the adoption and use of apps for learning (Cheong et al., 2012).

Apps provide supports to enhance learning (Douglas et al., 2012). They are often viewed by learners as more of a game and as such a ‘gamification’ of education occurs, adding a level of intrinsic reward and a more personal learning experience (Israel et al., 2013). The intrinsic sense of accomplishment is reaffirmed by Kucirkova et al. (2014) when they discovered “the more an app supports easily accessible open-ended content accomplishments, the more likely it is that the activity will have positive educational impact” (p. 183).

Apps offer ways for teachers to differentiate instruction and/or to provide immediate feedback during teaching (Walker, 2011). Well-designed educational apps include multi-modal input and output for students to learn via auditory, visual and tactile means (Green et al., 2014). They allow students to automatically record lectures and presentations to help them grow as both learners and presenters (Canessa et al., 2014). Function-based apps give students the opportunity to transform learned content into a more usable form (Cherner & Lee, 2014). Mobile, collaborative apps promote higher order thinking skills (Cheong et al., 2012). Individuals with disabilities can learn to use apps to enhance their learning of safety skills such as identifying whether or not there are ingredients in products which may trigger a serious allergic reaction (McMahon et al., 2013). The increasing growth in app availability means people with disabilities also benefit from the use of apps in both education and everyday life (Douglas et al., 2012). Douglas et al. (2012) found that the use of apps allow people with intellectual and related developmental difficulties to better communicate, learn, work and live in today’s society.

There are several databases available for educators or learners to search for an app that suits your own instructional or learning needs (Cherner & Lee, 2014). If, however, finding an app to meet a specific need proves difficult you can build your own using programs such as App Inventor (Hsu et al., 2012) and Google App Engine (Yu-Chang and Yu-Hui, 2013). These tools give educators a way to “leverage the power of mobile computing and design their own apps to serve their needs” (Hsu et al., 2012, p. E4).

4 Constraints

Falloon (2013) observed that cost can constrain the use of apps, particularly in educational settings. Each app purchased must also have its own license across every device it is installed upon causing associated costs to grow very quickly (Falloon, 2013). If the apps themselves are free we must then consider whether subsequent updates and/or key functionalities will also be free as this may render a useful app quite useless in the future (Jonas-Dwyer et al., 2012). With an abundance of apps to choose from, Douglas et al. (2012) found “purchasers and users of apps face murky and ambiguous pathways in locating apps that truly are useful” (p. 67). Databases such as the App Store classify apps based on very general criteria and often do not lend consideration to functionality, purpose and subject area implications (Cherner et al., 2014). Teachers are often left with the only option to test apps for themselves to determine their worth, taking both time and resources (Yu-Chang and Yu-Hui, 2013).

Falloon (2013) is concerned educators are rushing to adopt this new technology without a solid theory base or pedagogical foundation. Educators and learners must consider the credibility of the app designers, whether the app is relevant in any given educational context and whether or not the app is appropriate from a written and visual content perspective (Jonas-Dwyer et al., 2012). While the provision of feedback has been a positive in using most apps, data reporting has not yet been given the attention it needs to help make evaluation of student progress effective and should be considered a constraint in the app design process (Walker, 2011).

Some teachers are not even aware of the existence of many beneficial apps (Mumba & Zhu, 2013). If they are aware of them then they must take the time to learn how to use them and apply these apps in the classroom as well as take the requisite time needed to train their students to use them effectively (Douglas et al., 2012). Many apps require open Internet access in order to be used and concerns have been raised with having an open internet connection available to students as young as 5 years old (Falloon, 2013).

5 Links

Kathy Shrock’s Bloomin’ Apps

The Best Education Apps (iOS)

The Best Education Apps (Android)

The American Library Association’s Best Apps for Teaching and Learning 2013

100+ STEM iPad Apps For Learning

6 Works Cited

Canessa, E., Fonda, C., Tenze, L., and Zennaro, M. (2014). EyApp and AndrEyA -- Free apps for the automated recording of lessons by students. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 9(1), 31-34. doi:10.3991/ijet.v9i1.3346

Cheong, C., Bruno, V., and Cheong, F. (2012). Designing a mobile-app-based collaborative learning system. Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice, 11, 97-119. Retrieved from:

Cherner, T., Dix, J., and Lee, C. (2014). Cleaning up that mess: A framework for classifying educational apps. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 14(2), 1-61. Retrieved from:

Douglas, K. H., Wojcik, B. W., and Thompson, J. R. (2012). Is there an app for that?. Journal of Special Education Technology, 27(2), 59-70. Retrieved from:

Falloon, G. (2013). Young students using iPads: App design and content influences on their learning pathways. Computers and Education, 68, 505-521. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2013.06.006

Green, L., Hechter, R., Tysinger, P., and Chassereau, K. (2014). Mobile app selection for 5th through 12th grade science: The development of the MASS rubric. Computers and Education, 75, 65-71. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.02.007

Hsu, Y., Rice, K., and Dawley, L. (2012). Empowering educators with Google's Android App Inventor: An online workshop in mobile app design. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(1), E1-E5. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01241.

Israel, M., Marino, M., Basham, J., and Spivak, W. (2013). Fifth graders as app designers: How diverse learners conceptualize educational apps. Journal of Research on Technology in Education (International Society for Technology in Education), 46(1), 53-80. Retrieved from:

Jonas-Dwyer, D., Clark, C., Celenza, A., and Siddiqui, Z. (2012). Evaluating apps for learning and teaching. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 7(1), 54-57. Retrieved from:

Kucirkova, N., Messer, D., Sheehy, K., and Fernández Panadero, C. (2014). Children's engagement with educational iPad apps: Insights from a Spanish classroom. Computers and Education, 7(1), 175-184. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2013.10.003

McMahon, D., Cihak, D., Gibbons, M., Fussell, L., and Mathison, S. (2013). Using a mobile app to teach individuals with intellectual disabilities to identify potential food allergens. Journal of Special Education Technology, 28(3), 21-32. Retrieved from:

Mumba, F., and Zhu, M. (2013). Development of an innovative interactive virtual classroom system for K-12 education using Google App Engine. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 32(2), 195-217. Retrieved from:

Sharpe, R. (2012). Accessibility: the killer app of learning technology?. Research in Learning Technology, 20(3), 219-222. doi:10.3402/rlt.v20i0.19584

Walker, H. (2011). Evaluating the effectiveness of apps for mobile devices. Journal of Special Education Technology, 26(4), 59-63. Retrieved from:

Yu-Chang, H., and Yu-Hui, C. (2013). Mobile app design for teaching and learning: Educators' experiences in an online graduate course. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(4), 117-139. Retrieved from: