I still remember the excitement when I first saw a variety of apps on my iPhone, to be accurate, at the App Store. There were unlimited possibilities on the small screen of my new smart phone. It was May 2010 when my journey started.
When talking about education in the digital age, we often emphasized the impact of connection and collaboration across networks that allowed us to cross boundaries: between classrooms and the outside world, amongst disciplines, within education, or between people. However, when I started to consider the role of educational apps, I thought of other aspects of learning in the digital age–individual learning and autonomous learning. Using apps could be a feasible and efficient way to reduce challenges in the differentiated classroom to instruct students from diverse backgrounds and interests, with various skills and readiness levels.
I had been struggling to find a solution to respond to the needs of all students in my classroom, not only using differentiated instruction and resources but also dividing my time with students. In the language classroom, I had been trying to reduce time for repetitive exercises that students could manage themselves to allow more time to focus on individual learning needs. This is not to say that repetitive exercises are less important. They are crucial for second language learners and moreover I think students need to engage in repetitive drills more frequently but on their own, and apps could be the answer to support learning anywhere, at any time.
I thought I had found a practical solution for this issue, but then I found that there were not enough educational apps suitable for my students. Therefore, I decided to produce a custom-made app for them.
First, I looked for a business partner who could shape my idea and create an actual app. Fortunately, I found some reliable people and in a short time formed a team to start this project. We were all amateurs in the field of educational apps; however, the team members were professional advisers on games. They edited strategic game manuals and they knew the types of games that entertained people. I thought this point was essential to engage students in their learning. If my students use an app for learning it must be an entertaining app so they will want to use it repeatedly. I could not ignore the entertainment aspect of the app. I had to consider this even more because it would be used for educational purposes.
I learned so much through this experience and realized I could not just be satisfied in producing an app but had to share my learning with colleagues who might be willing to produce one.
Here are some tips for producing an iPhone app. I will just mention technical points, since they are not only for specific subject areas or age levels.
These are four technical points to consider in the planning:
1. Devices and OS Versions
Do you know the smart phones require different source codes for their apps?
The differences are shown in Table 1.
In the planning stage, it is necessary to examine a variety of platforms and decide the devices and OS versions the app requires. In my case, for instance, the supported devices and iOS versions for my app are iPhone, iPod touch and iPad with iOS 4.0 or later.
There are many different combinations of devices and iOS versions. Some might have iPhone 3GS with iOS 4.0 and others might have iPhone 4S with iOS 5.1. It is necessary to consider the many variations in the planning stage and choose the devices and iOS versions for the app. This initial planning is crucial not only for the development process but also for test management when debugging for various device versions. With constant updates, it might become necessary to revise to an updated device or OS after the release of the app.
Consider the usability of the display. Decide whether to show your app vertically, horizontally or both. Consider the target users and the ease of use for them.
3. Network use
Does the app require a network connection or not?
I want my app to be used anywhere at any time, so I decided not to use a network. However, to make the app interactive: to communicate and compete with other users or refer to your history data, a network is required. It is also possible to do both. For instance, users can use the app to answer quizzes without a network but when they want to refer to their personal records of the quizzes, they must use the network to connect to a server.
4. Network connection and size
If your app requires a network, the speed and stability of the Internet connection must be considered and a decision made between 3G or WiFi to connect to the network. Of course, the app should work on both. Related to the network, if the app is more than 50 MB in size (as of March 8th 2012), it needs to be downloaded using WiFi. The size must be less than 50 MB to use 3G for downloading.
Producing an app has been a challenging, rewarding and educational project. Anyone with a passion can produce an app. Technology changes our role and the way we teach.
Teachers are no longer just consumers but now teachers can also be producers.