I was recently talking with a group of educators, and the topic of apps came up. The term is part of our vernacular at this point, but not all apps are the same. This causes quite a bit of confusion when schools are looking for the right device for their learning environment. There are three types of apps commonly used by educators; mobile, desktop and web apps. Windows 8 devices are the only tablet PCs that can utilize all three.
Mobile or Modern Apps
Mobile (also known as modern) apps are the applications that are only available through an app store. Apple has iTunes, Google has Playlist, and Microsoft has the Windows Store. Microsoft is the new kid in town, their selection of quality apps, particularly in the education, is growing exponentially. Some apps are available for free, but tend to be limited in functionality (to encourage you to upgrade to the paid version). Not all free apps are limited, however. The Microsoft store has thousands of educational apps (some free – some not) that are fantastic!
When reviewing apps, look for ones that will help make lessons individualized, engaging, and effective. Manage and monitor a classroom full of students and devices with Class Policy, use interactive textbooks with Kno Textbook e-reader, create apps in an hour with Touch Develop, assess student learning using Skitch Touch and Community Clips, or connect with parents who do not speak English using the Bing Translator tool. These are just a few of thousands of educational mobile apps available.
These apps are the programs that are installed onto computers. They tend to require a beefier processor, video cards, drivers, and other components that are too technical for me. Desktop apps cannot be installed on iPads and Chromebooks, because neither has full blown computer capabilities. Common examples of desktop apps include Office (Word, PowerPoint, Outlook), Adobe Creative Suite, and district curriculum that requires materials to be downloaded onto a device. Any desktop app that can run on Windows 7 can run on Windows 8. In addition to Office, Microsoft has several desktop apps for education – most of them are free through the Partners in Learning website
The last category of apps are web apps. These are apps that either run completely from the internet – no installation needed, or may require a small plugin to be downloaded. Like desktop apps, if a web app requires a plugin, it cannot be downloaded to iPads or Chromebooks. There are thousands of great web apps out there. Many of them free for educators. Apps worth noting from Microsoft include Photosynth and SkyDrive Office apps. With SkyDrive Office Apps, anyone can access Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Excel, Outlook) without needing the full blown program on their computer. SkyDrive allows for real time collaboration and there is even an Excel survey tool.
The resources that are available to teachers and students are growing at a rapid pace. Choosing the right app means choosing the app that meets the learning target and will prepare our students to be college and career ready. When faced with choosing the right device for the classroom, educators need to think about what students will need beyond practice and reinforcement of skills. The devices used in the classroom should allow for productivity as well as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Students shouldn’t be hindered by the lack of app options due to a devices limited capabilities, and teachers shouldn’t have to compromise their lessons because their devices do not allow for flexibility and choice beyond an app store.