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Ovi Barcelo: 10 Things We Need to Know About Apps in the Classroom

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by Ovi Barcelo
Expert Educator Columnist, Spain

Nowadays it is very difficult to look to the past for longer than 4 or 5 years.

We think that Whatsapp, for example, has been around forever when in fact the app is only 5 years old.

The same goes for Angry Birds (launched 2009) and Twitter (which was also translated to other languages starting 2009).

So, what will be our apps landscape be like five years from now? Can we trust our methodology only in apps?

My answer is: no.

In education, we need to think about giving our students the skills to be citizens of the future. And the words “future” and “apps”, well, they don’t precisely match.

Am I saying that apps are not useful?

Do I dismiss the use of apps in my classroom?

Absolutely not.

So, what am I talking about?

9 Things We Need to Know About Apps in the Classroom

  1. They have to be planned and measured. What are you using this app for? Do our students know their goals? How are you going to get the results for assessment?
  2. Use the apps together with software. All the information that your students could get from the app needs to be analysed and transformed into knowledge. The best way to do so is working with a fully functional software like MS Office to create capacity building.
  3. Avoid apps about one single topic. The user experience is different in every app, so changing from one app to another can distract your students from the task at hand.
  4. Apps are not optimal for creation. Some of them allow students to create some content but if you put them together with an app-based device, the user experience is very poor. Rarely can the work be saved to be worked on later.
  5. Collaboration is very difficult to establish. We can work together but, with apps, it is very difficult to talk about shared responsibility or interdependence, for example, key concepts for proper collaboration.
  6. Apps are usually temporary. These kinds of projects are easily abandoned if it’s no longer supported by the creator, something that doesn’t usually happen with software that constantly upgrades to newer versions.
  7. Gamification doesn’t mean learning by playing. Gamification is about using game mechanics and thinking in non-game processes.
  8. Don’t look too much at other people’s success. The best apps in other environments may not always fit in your lessons for many reasons. Avoid using trendy apps just for the sake of being trendy.
  9. What skills are apps giving to your students? Have you ever thought about it? We are talking about competencies and skills in education and we are still delivering content, just that this time it’s through apps. The same end goal remains.

.. but wait!

How can we start this column about apps by talking so badly about them?

Forget about it! Apps are great! But within the right environment.

So here it comes– number ten (did you think I was going to give you only 9 points?).

  1. Use the apps. But use them in a device where you can make the most out of them by using fully functional software that allows cooperative work and has sharing capabilities. Plan their pedagogical goals. Hand in rubrics to your students and make them know what you want them to achieve and l`eran by using the app. Apps are an amazing tool to build knowledge and they have to support the curriculum to reach the goals.

My final comment is about the device. From my point of view, all the devices are not suitable for education no matter how many apps are be installed in them. In this graphic, we can see the pedagogical potential of different devices side by side.

Before thinking about apps or devices, think about education. Because we don’t need to solve education issues with technology; we have to fix technological problems with education.

Ovi Barcelo is the IT Coordinator of Grupo Sorolla, a cluster of four schools, all of them involved in Microsoft’s Showcase Schools Program. He is also a primary school teacher in Julio Verne Bilingual School. His column “What’s Appening” runs every Thursday.


  1. Pingback: 5 ways of using smartphones to teach... and learn.

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