Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Six Questions to Ask Before Using a New Educational App

We talk a lot about the latest ed tech developments here at The Yellin Center. We often share reviews of our favorite learning tools, or suggest where to go to find and vet new resources. However, it can be hard to figure out what tools to use, and how to decide if a digital tool is the best way to meet the specific need of a particular learner. We do not believe in integrating technology for technology’s sake; to be of any value, the tool being used needs to address and support a specific learning need in the student. There are also holistic aspects to consider, like the learner’s interests and affinities, when determining if a specific tool will be the right fit for a specific student.

Through our evaluation process here at The Yellin Center, we determine a specific learning profile for each student that highlights their strengths and challenges. From there, we develop a learning plan that will provide parents, teachers, and the student the tools they require to amplify the student’s learning. In our learning plans, we often suggest a breadth of digital tools after thoughtfully considering the learner and the variety of tools available. Our goal is to connect each student to specific tools that will suit their individual, personalized needs.

How do we decide what tools to recommend? One way is to ask a series of questions, which we thought might be helpful to share with our readers.

1. What are the learner’s specific areas of need and are there apps that target these areas?

For a student who struggles with phonological processing, we will begin by researching tools that address phonology and seeing what is available. For some areas, for example orthographic memory, it is much harder to find educationally robust tools to recommend.

2. What content or skills do we want the learner to learn or practice? Does this app address these needs?

If phonology is the concern and the child needs specific practice in rhyming and blending we will explore the available apps, looking to see what areas of phonology the app addresses to determine if this learner’s needs will be met.

3. Who are the creators of the app and what makes them experts in this learning area?

Most apps have an “about” section that explains who their developers and staff are, which allow us to understand and vet their credentials. Other, more robust, tools will sometimes have research sections on their websites or information about the results of case studies that have been conducted to demonstrate the efficacy of the particular app. These are really helpful in understanding how educationally rigorous a tool is.

4. Is there likely to be transference of the skills learned in app to the real world?

We believe that games can be an effective way to learn, with the caveat that we want to ensure the skills being learned are universal and not specific to the game being played in-app. We always look to see how the skills are being taught in the app, and how likely they are to help the student develop skills across contexts. For example, if the app teaches rhyming, we look to see if it is done in such a way that when a child sees two rhyming words on a pencil and paper task in school that they will have understood the concepts strongly enough to identify the rhyme. 

5. Is there a tracking mechanism to show the child and others the progress being made?

We also believe in the power of play, and that not all play is for “educational purposes”. However, when it comes to academic skill building, we like to see apps that show a student’s progress. We find students feel like their time is well spent when they can see themselves progressing toward their own goals.

6. Is there a comparable or better app at a better price point?

Some apps are expensive, and it isn’t always the most expensive app that is the best. So, we always look and consider the cost of each tool recommended and make sure there isn’t anything out there that is as helpful but more affordable.

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