Apps in Education 2011 to 2020

In 2011, I made presentations at several colleges about the use of mobile apps in education and teaching in an "app world." At that time, apps were a big topic in the tech world but not a big topic in education. That presentation (it is on my Slideshare site) included the slide below where education doesn't even appear as a category unless you consider it to be part of the 5% of "other" app consumption. Clearly, games and social networking dominated usage at that time and they both still garner a high percentage of app use.

app use chart

How we were using apps in 2011

Showing this slide to college faculty reinforced their idea that apps are not for education. Of course, in 2011 apps were also not for common banking and financial use, medical records, and other "serious" computing.

That has certainly changed. But has it changed for education?

Reviewing my own 2011 presentation predictions, I said that I thought apps would come to education in three waves: Adoption, Adaption, and Creation.

Adoption was schools and educators adopting existing apps that had some education features or were designed for education. The obvious one then and now was apps for learning management systems. Blackboard was the first I used but now Canvas and all the other players have them. Adoption was not immediate. The two colleges I worked at then both chose not to offer the mobile version. Faculty could not see how you could possibly take a course on your phone. But I had a graduate student that year who told me that she did her coursework for me on her phone in her free time while she was at her night job. We were using Moodle and she just resized the web pages. I couldn't see how that worked but I knew an app would have made it better.

The second wave was adaption - using apps not specifically designed for education in courses. That was being done by individual teachers as they discovered and bought into the app world. Adaption requires some pedagogical changes. Mobile devices still were not acceptable (even banned) in some classrooms in 2011. It was the rare faculty member who said "Take out your phone..." and asked students to use it for class. 

Now in this time of the pandemic, it is clear to schools, teachers, students, and parents how "educational" phones or tablets can be. Schools are supplying tablets the way we once supplied laptops. But even laptops are using apps. I'm sure app downloads are up in the past two months. App versions of Zoom and others have become common tools not only for educators but or personal use.

That move from personal to professional (business or education) use is critical to adoption or adaption/adaptation. As teachers started using their phones and apps more in their everyday screen time, the move to use them for teaching became easier.
 

apps in education

Something that made faculty fearful in 2011

Those 2011 audiences weren't sold on using apps in the first half of my presentation. They weren't using apps for themselves. Some did not have a smartphone. But they were hearing "There's an app for that" from friends, colleagues their students and on television commercials. They knew it was coming.

I caught their interest when I shifted to talking about why - even though I was an app evangelist - apps are NOT online courses or would virtual schools in the near future. (I find that educators generally like the status quo.) There was an article I pointed to that was headlined “My Teacher Is An App.” A provocative headline but the article did follow my point that things were changing but we wouldn't be there for quite a while.

The article said “In a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school, states and districts nationwide are launching online public schools that let students from kindergarten to 12th grade take some—or all—of their classes from their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. Other states and districts are bringing students into brick-and-mortar schools for instruction that is largely computer-based and self-directed.”

That was not common in 2011 and still wasn't common in 2019 - but it is a lot closer to being true in the spring of 2020.

I wondered then if apps would be driving curriculum or would curriculum be driving app development. I'm pleased that the latter seems to be generally the case now.

I asked the audience if they believed that this reliance on smartphones and apps will "produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it because they will not practice their memory. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many Socrates on the things without instruction and written word, will, therefore, seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with since they are not wise but only appear wise.”

Those in the audience who did agree were right in line with Socrates in 340 BC since those were his words on his belief about the dangers of the written word. Socrates was wrong about the adoption of the written word into education.

My third wave was just beginning to form in 2011. That was colleges creating their own apps. I had a few examples of colleges adopting and adapting things like parking and events using commercial apps and GPS to navigate campuses or scheduling apps for campus calendars, courses, or facilities scheduling.

But do schools need to create their own apps or just purchase commercial ones that can be branded? I looked back to the development of school websites as an example. Initially, most schools bought a package or a vendor but along the way many schools took it on as an in-house operation, perhaps using some commercial products - a combination of creation and adaptation. 

In 2011, may school websites weren't even dynamic enough ready for viewing on phones or tablets. But schools were creating their own apps and courses about how to develop apps were becoming a hot topic.

In 2020, there are plenty of no-code tools for app development (Airtable, Bubble, Zapier, Coda, Webflow) so that it doesn't take a wizard developer to make a fully functioning app. 

If you are a teacher or student at any level K-20, the chances are excellent that you are using apps in your courses and on your campus.

The Post-Pandemic Campus

empty classroomAn article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately, "premium" for subscribers even in these pandemic days) is called "How Should Colleges Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World?" by Brian Rosenberg. His general advice is to "anticipate and plan for change rather than merely hope that it will not arrive." Change has arrived.

This article may be for higher education but almost all of these thoughts apply to K12 schools too.

Here are my highlighted excerpts with some commentary:

  • College is staggeringly expensive. Students and their families are going to be hard hit. Plus, colleges that have lost enormous sums of money will be attempting to recap but from families that have lost income and savings: Most colleges will need to provide more financial aid and possibly fewer services with fewer people.
  • When the lockdown is over there will still be a period of voluntary separation. With no vaccine, many people are still going to be hesitant to travel, return to campus, interact in groups in classrooms and labs. I suspect there will be more gap years than in the past.
  • Distance learning was forced upon us. Some of it was fine. It had been fine in many courses before all this. Some of it was lacking. It was done in a panic without much time to prepare and with faculty and students were not ready for it and never wanted to be online before. Schools need to really evaluate what worked, what didn't work and what they will change next time this kind of longterm disruption occurs. And it will.
    What courses and subjects can use the online model to be less expensive but still highly effective? Of course, most schools still charge the same for an online course as a face-to-face one, so there is no savings for students.  way to teach. Can a hybrid model of in-person+online lower cost? These are not new questions to ask, but too many schools have still never addressed them - and the answers may be different in 20121 than they were in 2019. 
  • Is distance learning "good enough" in a world of sharply diminished resources? The author suspects that for many students and families the answer will be yes. I agree.
  • So, how should schools prepare for the post-pandemic world? It is better to anticipate and plan for change than merely to hope that it will not arrive. One change might be rethinking the traditional academic calendar - "which is almost unique in its inefficiency."  The author suggests the "simplest way to lower the cost of college" but it is not the easiest way - eliminate the long breaks and make it easier for students to graduate in three years.

School at Home

home learning

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I've been helping a few teachers with their online teaching the past month as American schools closed due to the COVID19 pandemic and they were forced to become virtual teachers. Some teachers and schools were ready. Some were not.

Those that were ready had not only put in place software for conferencing and course management but had trained teachers and students to use it. They would also have determined that both groups had the hardware to use the software. I had to loan two teaching friends headsets with microphones since the stores are also closed. The very best schools had also made sure that teachers were using these tools on a regular basis for homework help, materials storage, and discussions. Some schools were already in virtual mode when there was a snowstorm or weather issue or if a student was out for an extended period.

While one teacher I worked with had his textbook online (an open textbook - hurray!) another did not. Her school had sent students home for 3 days while they did a rush training on using Google Classroom with teachers. In those 3 days, the decision was made not to reopen the school. Guess what? Many of the students had not brought home any textbooks or notebooks, and now they could not return to school. Good luck having students read chapter 11 and work on the problems at the end.

One resource that has been around for a while is Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organization created in 2008 by Salman Khan with the goal of creating a set of online tools that help educate students.

They offer short lessons in the form of videos and supplementary practice exercises and materials for educators. All resources are available for free to users of the website and app.

Knowing that teachers and students at this time were affected by the school closures and with social distancing Khan Academy stepped up their offerings. They give a suggested but adaptable daily study schedule to help build a routine while learning at home. For high school students prepping for college admission, recent SAT test cancellations are causing some panic. They offer FAQ about the SAT and havean  suggested SAT study plan.

Sal Khan even thought to create a meditation video playlist with simple meditation techniques to help you calm your mind, relax, and focus.

I love that they have made available a Google Form where you can ask for other resources you need that they might create. Sal is doing a daily livestream on Facebook and YouTube where he answers questions live.

An Open and Shut Educational Case

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Here are some concepts that I see used as hashtags, which is a sign that they have a following: lifelong learning, lifewide learning. open education, open learning, open universities. Around 2012, when MOOCs went large, the open of Massive Open Online Courses was a really important part of what defined those courses. Today, the open part has been lost in many instances where you see the MOOC term applied to an offering.

I created a category here in 2006 called "Open Everything" as an umbrella term for what I saw as a trend which would include MOOCs, OER (Open Educational Resources), open textbooks, open-source software and other things used in "open education" and beyond what we traditionally have thought of as "education," such as training, professional development and unsupervised learning.

It's not that this openness started in 2012. In 2006, I was posting in that category about a conference on interoperability, iTunes U, podcasts, Creative Commons and other open efforts. It wasn't until 2008 that I used the term "Open Everything" in a post as a movement I was seeing, rather than just my aggregated category of posts. 

That 2006 conference brought together schools using different course management systems (CMS such as WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) to see if there might be ways to have these open and closed CMS work together. Moodle and Sakai were open-source software and schools (including NJIT where I was working) were experimenting with them while still using the paid products. At that time, a survey of officials responsible for software selection at a range of higher education institutions responded in a survey that two-thirds of them had considered or were actively considering using open source products. About 25% of institutions were implementing higher education-specific open-source software of some kind.

On a much larger scale, there were open universities with quite formal learning, such as the Open University in Great Britain. There were efforts at less formal learning online, such as Khan Academy. There was also the beginning of less formal learning from traditionally formal places, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

The MOOC emerged from the availability of free resources, such as blogging sites, that were not open in that you probably could not get to the code that ran it or reproduce it elsewhere but were freely available. 

The Open Everything philosophy embraces equity and inclusion and the idea that every person has a right to learn throughout their lives. It champions the democratization of knowledge. 

In the 14 years since I started writing about this, we have made progress in the use of OER. Open textbooks, which I literally championed at conferences and in colleges, are much easier to get accepted by faculty than it was back then.

Unfortunately, some things that began as open - MOOCs are perhaps the best example - are now closed. They may not be fully closed. You can still enroll in courses online without cost. You may or may not be able to reuse those materials in other places or modify them for your own purposes.

In 2017, I wrote that David Wiley makes the point about "open pedagogy" that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.”

Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions." Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 

I view the once-open doors are mostly shut. I hope they won't be locked.