Evaluating Apps with Transformative Use of the iPad in Mind

The app development market is exploding. More and more companies are creating “educational apps”. In some cases, they are simply digital versions of a book or a web based tool. Some seem to have “no educational value” to it at all, but are still sold under the label of “education”. Although, I usually don’t resort to borderline cuss words, I really liked the expression of “crapware”, Sarah Perez over at TechCrunch used when she was reviewing a new app for the Pre-School/Kindergarten crowd.

That being said, TinyTap is still a lot better than much of the kids’ apps crapware out there in the iTunes App Store. And it’s hard not to fall in love with the concept at the very least. Instead of burning up brain cells with the mind-numbing games out there, TinyTap enables kids to become game creators, not just players.

I have teachers ask  me frequently about app recommendations for different subject areas.

  • “What app could I use to teach subtraction?”
  • “What app would you recommend for my students to practice writing?”
  • “I want to use iPads in my Science class. What app is good for that?”

I usually sigh to myself, when I receive questions like that. While I am not against in suggesting apps ( which I love doing), I am not comfortable with the level of disconnect between the teacher (who knows her/his students best) and the curriculum related skills and objectives and pedagogical relationship that needs to be in place for an app to be a match to use in a classroom or with an individual learner.

I want teachers to be able to, not only ask for and use an app, because someone else recommended it, but I want teachers equipped with the curiosity and the knowledge of:

  • the value an app can bring to a learner (and being able to articulate the value)
  • the connection from the app to curriculum content (and being able to demonstrate the depth of that connection)
  • the possibilities the app can bring in order to amplify (take a look at a previous post: The Next Step: Amplification )
  • the difference of using an app to automate and substitute a task versus informate and transform (previous post: Enhancement-Automating-Transforming-Informating )
  • how to evaluate apps for their transformative potential?

Without a doubt, educators using iPads in the classroom, are in new territory. The iPad  made its first debut in April 2010 ( at the time of this writing, just a little over 2 years ago). There is no extended period of tried and tested roadmap….new apps are appearing daily… If you are using iPads in education, YOU are a pioneer.

We are in need to chart a new course, not merely following in the footsteps of the ones who came before us and not simply adapt the tools at our disposal to the “old way of doing things”.

More importantly, we are in dire need of educators who are willing to use their imagination, experiment, revise a course of action, innovate and share their best practice in regards to using iPads in education. 

I came upon the following rubrics (1) developed by Harry Walker and (2) based on Kathy Schrock and updated by Greg Alchin.

With the above rubrics as an inspiration, I created the following iPad App Evaluation for the Classroom info-flyer to be used by teachers to critically look at each app they are contemplating using with their students.

I am addressing the following areas, which are not meant to be exclusive for evaluating an app, but could be considered a starting point and a platform to build upon.

Please share in the comment section other areas, you consider important when evaluating apps for the classroom and, if applicable, please share a link to your own rubric or reflective post.

You can  download the PDF file of the iPad App Evaluation for the Classroom.

  • Considerations
  • Content & Components
  • Logistics
  • Fluency
  • Substitution vs Transformation Model (based on SAMR model of Ruben Puentedura and Alan November‘s work)
  • Evidence of Learning (based on conversation with Stephen Wilmarth)



iPad App Evaluation for the Classroom

Further Resources:

11 thoughts on “Evaluating Apps with Transformative Use of the iPad in Mind”

  1. Fantastic Resource Silvia. I am preparing a one day introductory iPad workshop and was trying to come up with my own rubric. I am so grateful for this. It’s wonderful. Are you okay if I share this with Academy of the Pacific on Oahu? They are starting a 1:1 iPad program in August and I’ll be helping them get started. Of course you will get all the credit and heaps of praise and more traffic to your web-site. Also I wanted to see if you would join the iPad Education Dreams Group on FB – it was started by Josh Reppun from Iolani School. It’s a wonderful place to interact with other iPad users and to learn some new tips. The group is very thoughtful. Hope all is well.

  2. Thanks for sharing your ideas and resources! I especially liked the questions. In what scenario do you picture educators using this? We’ve been slowly using, reflecting, modifying a session for small groups of teachers (the Apps Taskonomy linked above). All teachers need the skills to critically evaluate the apps they do use. But, we have limited time. Educators need to find ways to benefit from the curation of others since we can’t test all the apps out there. Do you picture teachers using sites like yours and others to pick from a smaller set of apps that have been vetted in some way and then using your evaluation tools? Do you see coordination of this as the role of the teacher, media specialist, plc, building, curriculum specialist, etc?

    Another question. I’m sure you address when using this tool in person, how do you help teachers value a balance of Bloom’s, November’s roles, different intelligences, SAMR, etc? We’ve been aware of these, especially Bloom, for a while. Much in our system will push teachers toward using the apps similarly to how they have always done things.

  3. This is most definitely the best and most comprehensive post I have read about the need for educators to be critical thinkers when evaluating apps for students to transform rather than just enhance learning. I agree – iPads are so new that we are all on the cutting edge – we are all pioneers and many teachers feel uncomfortable in this role. Your handouts are a wonderful resource for teachers and give them a step-by-step approach for considering apps to use with students, and the questions they need to be asking. I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying out new apps, mostly for lower primary students. Many times, like you, I’ve been frustrated by apps that are simply not educational at all. Thank you so much for taking the time to develop and share these wonderful resources.

  4. Hello my name is Keilan Yancey, and I am currently taking an Educational Media (EDM) class, and our class blog is edm310.blogspot.com
    As a prospective new science teacher I find this post to be very beneficial for both teachers and students. By using the information in I-pad App evaluation for the classroom post not only can the teachers learn to find vital information to teach, students can do further research on topics given by the teacher and without wasting valuable teaching and studying time by using what you referred to as “crapware” apps.

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