Apps Transforming the Classroom

Apps Transforming the Classroom

Mobile apps are finding their place in the classroom, as online programs grow in the coming year.

Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.

Students and parents can expect to see more digital learning tools — from organizational and content apps to online study sites — in 2012, both inside and outside the classroom.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to personalize learning environments — to make learning more efficient and effective because it’s more personal and it’s more closely related to who you are as a learner,” said Karen Cator, the Department of Education’s director of technology, in a recent “The Journal” article about educational trends.

Supplemental educational programs are leading the way in adapting curriculum for the online learner. For example, companies like Kaplan and Sylvan offer online tutoring programs to supplement classroom learning, and forecasters are looking to those projects for clues about what works and can be applied to the nation’s classrooms.

In general, these programs assess students to determine skill gaps an individualized curriculum might address. This level of customization allows the student to focus on critical areas and often provides a measurement tool to gauge success. Some of the strategies will likely trickle down to more traditional classrooms eventually.

Increased use of mobile devices with educational apps will also be one of the biggest education technology trends in 2012, according to a September 2011 study by Encyclopedia Britannica, which points out smartphones, tablets, and netbooks lead the pack of preferred handheld devices among K-12 students.

To underscore the point, Encyclopedia Britannica offers an app on U.S. presidents, coinciding with the nation’s observation of Presidents Day. “Britannic Kids: U.S. Presidents,” available for iPhones and iPads with iOS 4 or greater, teaches young learners an important aspect of U.S. history by taking them on a fun, educational “meet-and-greet” with U.S. presidents.

The material engages students with features like profiles for all 44 U.S. presidents, a sing-along with music and lyrics to “Hail to the Chief,” quizzes, and information about Mt. Rushmore, the Secret Service, Camp David, and the White House bowling alley.

The Britannica Kids app brings the Oval Office to kids’ living rooms via their iPads and iPhones, making learning about the subject fun and even cool, joining other apps in providing an engaging educational experience to improve organization, learning and retention.

For those who need help organizing their homework assignments and schedules, “iProcrastinate” offers a paperless alternative to track and rank important tasks. The $1 iOS app breaks down tasks into parts and includes color-coding, assigning priority levels and the ability to share tasks with others, useful for group projects.

“InClass” builds on the calendar idea and offers help for those who have trouble keeping track of lectures. The free app can record audio notes in class, as well as take photos and videos of chalkboard diagrams and lecture demonstrations. Users can save material in a “journal,” take quizzes on the material, and receive notifications based on when tasks are due.

The “Voice Thread iOS” apps might also suit collaborative learners, giving them the ability to share pictures, videos, presentations and documents that are overlaid and synched with audio notes. It costs between $3 and $6.

Google Apps Suite offers a range of products including Google Docs, Books, Scholar, Email, Calendar and Search in a one-stop package for research, organization and collaboration. The products are handy when working with various members in remote locations.

The free Quizlet website helps create digital flash cards or search for those already created by others. Students can create customized flashcards for a specific learning unit, complete with pictures, and flip through them, play games and use printable information to reinforce the information.

Flashcard app “StudyBlue,” for both iPhone and Android, functions in a similar way, but for mobile use. The free, updated app lets students include speech to text directly into their flashcards.

In addition to providing learners with customized content to satisfy individualized learning styles, these Web tools also appeal to tech-savvy young students.

There is little doubt many of these strategies and techniques will make their way into the traditional educational setting as educational leaders develop workable ways to integrate the technology in the classroom.

The movement is underway, but equipment funding and securing the students’ connections in an educational setting remain obstacles. Until then, as the new school semester kicks off, students and educators may want to check out some of these aids to get a better handle on homework management and enhance students’ educational experience.

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