cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Serge Melki
In education, mobile devices have taken a strong hold – and for good reason. They are less expensive than computers, more portable, and far more responsive for impatient learners who demand instant access. There are thousands of apps designed with an educational focus, and many more productivity and content-creation apps that can be used effectively by students to facilitate and enhance their learning. Like all new technology, apps bring challenges to the school library – the centre in the school for resource and information management.
The library’s resource management role
The school library may be given the responsibility for managing the school’s fleet of mobile devices, and is certainly a natural centre for managing the purchasing of apps. This is an opportunity for the library to develop another area of service for students and teachers, and to reinforce the resource management role of the library.
Managing apps can present challenges, as most mobile devices are designed to be owned and managed by an individual. When managed centrally, creative approaches are needed to ensure the device is set up to meet multiple users’ needs while complying with complex legal limitations.
It can be overwhelming to keep track of recommendations for app purchases. Time-poor teachers often leave requests until the last moment, or request an app that meets the same needs as one already installed on school devices. One way to manage this is to create an online form that teachers complete in order to request the purchase of apps. You can see an example of such a form here.
Online forms may be embedded into webpages, meaning the request form can be built into the library’s online presence. Using a form such as this controls the flow of app requests, helps teachers to consider why they are requesting the app and how they are going to use it, and also gives library staff time to manage the app purchasing and loading process. Having a set time each week for app loading, and making this clear on the form, should go some way to streamline requests and ensure apps are ready for lessons.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Glyn Lowe Photoworks
Once apps are purchased, the next step in effective management is to add these to the library catalogue. As well as providing access to the range of hard copy resources that are physically stored on the library shelves, the school library catalogue should also be a doorway to a range of carefully curated digital resources, including apps.
By cataloguing apps, librarians are placing into the hands of users a way of finding quality apps that have been evaluated from an educational perspective and which, through the use of metadata, may be linked to other supporting resources and tools. Cataloguing apps also allows librarians to quickly identify whether an app has already been purchased and the device it has been loaded onto, which is an organisational boon for those managing large fleets of devices.
Curating and promoting apps
Of course, there also needs to be an awareness of the range of apps that are available on school devices. It is here that social bookmarking tools such as Pinterest and Pearltrees may be useful. These curation tools create appealing visual displays, and are popularly used by students and teachers to manage information. A Pinterest board of apps related to inquiry learning, for example, is a great way for librarians to advertise apps already purchased, and how they might be used. Similarly, Pearltrees allows for apps to be categorised according to learning area or topic.
One of the best things about apps is their relatively low cost. Although a few specialist apps can be expensive, on the whole paid apps range from 99c up to $10. In addition, there are many free apps available, some fully functional, and others as ‘lite’ versions that provide a ‘try before you buy’ experience.
The decision to choose the free or paid version is dependent upon the app. In many cases, choosing the paid version of an app results in a better experience for users. This is for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious is that, essentially, nothing is really free and, often, free apps are funded with advertising or require ‘in app’ purchases in order to reach full functionality. Secondly, some free apps allow the user to create content, but limit the ways of exporting or sharing the finished product. Other times, the app will watermark the content, or limit the number of times something can be produced.
Even though apps are relatively inexpensive, paying for apps to be installed on multiple devices can quickly increase costs. There is a misconception that one app may be installed on up to five devices; however, this only holds true for personal use, and schools must purchase one app per device. Accessing Apple’s volume licencing goes some way to reducing these costs for those using Apple devices although not all apps are available through this program.
Who manages the purchases of apps, and how they are purchased is also an issue that must be addressed. If apps are being loaded centrally by the library staff, then it makes sense that they should be in charge of purchasing. The budget for these purchases may be centralised, or may form part of the app request process (i.e. teachers must ensure they have enough funds available to purchase apps that they request). Often gift cards are used to remove the need for credit cards, which can add an extra layer of complexity. An added benefit of using gift cards is that these frequently go on sale, allowing users to save up to 20% on the cost of purchase.
Ideally, every app should be carefully evaluated before it is purchased, to ensure the best use of school funds. When evaluating apps, there are three main aspects that must be considered: purpose, design and content, and process.
Quality teaching comes from using apps that are not just chosen because they were recommended, but when teachers recognise the app’s purpose and potential.
This includes teachers knowing and being able to articulate:
• what added value the app brings to the learning context
• how the app enriches and adds to the pedagogy being used
• the potential for the app to amplify learning through creation, remixing, publication and sharing
• a familiarity with where the app sits within Puentedura’s SAMR model and whether or not the app simply automates or substitutes for a traditional learning task, or if it brings about truly informative and transformative learning, that simply could not be achieved any other way. (based on the work of Rosenthal Tolisano, May 27 2012).
The design of the app is hugely important. The app should be intuitive to allow user independence. It should provide a secure and stable platform, with a variety of ways to share the content created. It is also worthwhile to check if student data can be stored, so that if an activity is interrupted partway through, work may be resumed from the same point at a later time. Ideally, the app will also be flexible in use, suitable for a range of learners, or for a range of learning experiences.
Finally the content and processes of the app must be evaluated. This evaluation will be dependent upon curriculum requirements, the classroom context and the experience of those working with the app. Criteria such as the authenticity of the learning, the connections to the curriculum and the opportunities for differentiation and personalisation should be considered. Many apps are excellent in providing rapid and effective feedback to learners, and allow learners to be creative and self-directed in problem solving.
There are many checklists and rubrics available online to guide this evaluation (some are available here). Schools may find that it is best to create individualised criteria, to reflect unique school needs and requirements. One of the best ways of managing the information gathered from this evaluation process is to use an online form, so that evaluations are collected in the form of a spreadsheet that all users may access. An example may be seen here.
e-reading vs apps
Another way libraries are using mobile devices is as e-readers. The distinction between an e-book, an e-audiobook and an app is becoming increasingly blurred, and an app may provide another way of engaging a reader. While there is some evidence to suggest students are growing to prefer e-readers to traditional books (Bosman, 2011 and Indiana State University, 2013), there is still a place for a physical collection. The decision to offer e-books and audio books via mobile devices is one that libraries might make as a way of meeting the needs of many different types of learner, and to offer a variety of avenues to access information. The evolution of e-books in the library space is one that demands close observation, and cannot be ignored by librarians who are operating at the cutting edge of this area.
Libraries are always being challenged to take on new and innovative ways of delivering information and resources to their patrons. Effective management of mobile devices and apps takes forward planning, but the benefits of having a well-organised and centralised system for evaluating, purchasing, cataloguing and loading apps will result in a service that is appreciated by all members of the school community.
Bosman, J. (2011). E-readers catch younger eyes and go in backpacks. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://22.214.171.124/eslefl/miscstudent/downloadpagearticles/untitled5.pdf
Indiana State University. (2013, May 24). Research Shows Students Perform Well Regardless of Reading Print or Digital Books. Newswise. Retrieved June 5, 2013, from http://www.newswise.com/articles/research-shows-students-perform-well-regardless-of-reading-print-or-digital-books2
This article was originally published in SCIS Connections, Issue 86.
You can view it online here: