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How to use apps in the classroom


Apps are a key part of the e-learning model. They introduce abilities such as problem-solving and complex task management to the equation (compared to, say, the Internet component of e-learning, which is more about accessing and consuming content).

These skills are vital 21st century skills. They’re what the students of today need in order to be the employees – and indeed leaders – of tomorrow.

Here are 10 tips for effectively involving apps in your teaching, split into set-up and actual use.


Practical pre-considerations

  1. Consider rethinking the physical classroom layout. Do you need traditional desks? Could they be moved aside in favour of low tables and collaborative spaces? Remember too that most devices readily link to projectors and TVs, so shared/group app sessions are easily staged.
  2. As an institution, decide whether devices will be school-owned, or student-owned. The latter is easier for learning outside the classroom, but raises issues around syncing and firewalls, for example.
  3. Work with administrators to deliver cost-effectiveness. App-led learning can cut expenditure on textbooks, calculators, writing tools and so on, and thus even recoup initial outlay on school-owned devices.Remember too that about a third of all apps are free to download, and the average cost is around $2.5.
  4. Why not appoint a handful of ‘app champs’ per class? They can be responsible for charging, syncing and updating all devices and apps, freeing teachers from the burden of doing this.
  5. If necessary and helpful, invite parents to a session where you outline the benefits of apps in learning. Some might have misconceptions that apps are ‘games’ with limited educational merit: getting their buy-in could be invaluable.


Teaching techniques

  1. Stay true to your learning vision. Apps should complement and enhance it, rather than take over.
  2. Encourage and enable learning self-management among students. You could involve them in analyzing and deciding which apps should be used. Given the huge choice available, and students’ natural insight and affinity for what’s good, this could save you needing to know the entire market yourself. This tactic might extend into different students choosing different apps for the same module, because doing so suits their personal learning style. In this way, apps work to replace a ‘one size fits all’ rigid approach to teaching.
  3. Split apps into those that are for doing ‘old things in new ways’, and those that are for ‘new things in new ways’. This will enhance further how students perceive their problem-solving capabilities.
  4. Encourage students to continue using apps outside the lesson and classroom. The idea that “every switched-off device is potentially a switched-off child” has considerable truth to it. (This point needs considering in tandem with point 2 above: if school-owned devices are allowed to leave the classroom, then they may need restrictions in order to prevent personal use and downloading, syncing to unauthorized devices and so on.)
  5. Involve analysis and criticism of apps in your discussions. Ask students: how might they have improved the app, or indeed created their own, to better support learning.