Archive for the ‘apps’ Category

Apps are the foundation of all mobile platforms.  The explosion in the use of mobile devices, especially smart phones, is the direct result of two factors.  The first factor is the design and manufacture of hand held devices that are small, yet powerful enough to act as mini computers.  The second is the design and development of applications that run on these devices that allow users to access information and accomplish tasks on the go.  With regards to learning, the discussion around the use of mobile devices has often been around app use and the use of mobile devices as a device of consumption.  There are endless learning apps available in app stores that focus on information access or reinforcement of skill through consumption.  While using apps specifically, and mobile devices in general, in this way has a place, when we focus the use of mobile devices to develop skills, we need to use mobile devices differently.

The discussion in education circles regarding inquiry based learning and knowledge construction applies when discussing mobile learning.  It is only by using mobile devices to collaboratively interact with others, construct knowledge and publish learning that mobile use begins to move to a new and higher level. Using apps on mobile devices to reinforce learning at the end of the learning cycle is not a transformative use of the technology. Transformative use includes using apps to learn and develop new skills at the beginning and throughout the learning process.

It is difficult to provide examples using specific apps due to the various platforms available. However, if we use social networking sites and apps as an example, one can see how mobile devices can be used by students to discuss questions, formulate solutions to inquiries, and to collaborate. It could be discussions using Twitter, collaborating on presentations using Google docs and sharing presenting findings on a blog or wiki. The crucial part is the apps, like devices themselves, are tools to learning thus play a subservient role. We need to focus on expectations and learning skills first and then find apps that support the learning. We should not be getting apps because “it’s a great way to reinforce math skills” but because it “help students develop math skills”. Apps, like devices, need to provide students with the ability to engage in learning in ways that are impossible without them. Apps that replicate flash cards do not support higher level learning. Apps that allow students to communicate, collaborate, share ideas and construct knowledge with others across distances and time do support higher level learning.

What are your thoughts here? What specific examples do you have of apps that support higher level learning?


I have written on two separate occasions on the debate between Native Apps vs. Web Apps.  The first, written in January 2011 is titled “Apps: Web Apps vs Native Apps“. The second, written in October 2011 is titled “Revisiting the Native Apps vs. Web Apps Debate“.  Here, I share an infographic posted on the MDG Advertising blog that provides usage data for web apps and native apps.

New York Times on iPhone 3GS We are in the midst of another change in the world of business.  When the development of the Internet and it’s widespread use in the the 1990’s initiated the information age, we saw companies scrambling to move their advertising and sales agents from physical spaces to online spaces.  With smartphones ushering in the mobile revolution, companies again are scrambling to shift their strategies and to format their advertising and sales access points from computer to mobile and from computer browsers to mobile apps.  I recently read an article on TechCrunch which described how big brands struggled to connect to customers and leverage their audience during Super Bowl XLVII as they used a computer browser strategy to try and connect with mobile users.  While this does demonstrate that shifts in strategies do not occur without some growing pains, it is clear that there is huge growth potential for business to connect with their customers online through mobile devices. People always have their mobile devices with them and more and more, mobile devices are becoming the access gateway to information and other content. This is especially the case in situations where someone cannot afford a wide variety of technology hardware and their only access to the Internet is through a mobile device.

Many of those same customers are also students or other education partners and shifting to a mobile strategy in education can help us connect with those students and partners.  Developing a mobile strategy in education does not come without effort. Just as there are growing pains for business, there will also be growing pains for school in shifting cultural practices to include a mobile strategy.  However, there is great potential in engaging students and community partners so any more forward is a positive step.

Here are some ideas that we can use as a stepping stones to a grander mobile strategy in education:


  • Allowing students to access mobile devices to research information for assignments using mobile learning apps (i.e. Wikipedia, HowStuffWork,, news apps, etc.);
  • Allowing students to access their mobile devices to publish their work online and reach a larger audience (and to learn the concept of a target audience) though mobiles apps such as WordPress (blogging), Twitter (microblogging), etc.;
  • Allowing students to use their mobile devices to document their learning in new ways using media apps such as voice recorders or camera apps and then use that data to create multimedia presentations using either available apps (i.e. iMovie for iPhone) or other available apps on a computer;
  • Using social media (i.e. Twitter) to encourage students to collaborate;
  • Teacher can publish relevant pieces of classroom events and other information to keep students focused and parents informed  through mobiles apps such as WordPress (blogging), Twitter (microblogging), etc.;

Community Partners:

  • Schools can keep parents and other community partners informed of school events by publishing relevant information online through mobile apps such as WordPress (blogging), Twitter (microblogging), FaceBook (social networking) etc.
  • Schools can help families plan around school events by using mobile apps to maintain an online school calendar (i.e. Google Calendar)
  • Collect input from the community by creating surveys or providing another method of education partners to share information with the school through Google Forms – Forms can be completed on a mobile or computer browser and the collected data can be viewed on both a mobile and computer browser
  • Creating and posting QR Codes around the school and in school newsletters to provide the community with quick access to school news online, newsletters online, online calendar, etc.

Just as important in using mobile devices and mobile apps is a discussion around acceptable use with students and community partners and the adherence to school/board policies.  However, we can still work within acceptable use polices and implement a mobile strategy in education that engages students in their learning and engages community partners in  education of their children.

appsThis is my second look at the debate between native apps vs web apps. When I wrote on this topic before (that post can be found here), i focused on presenting both side of the debate. I’ve started to think about this debate again after recently listening to the Search Engine Podcast episode “Tim Berners Less: The Search Engine Interview“. While the browser is king on computers, when it comes to mobile devices, it’s still not clear which type of access to the internet will dominate.

When the topic came up in the interview, Tim Berners-Lee was clearly in favour of web apps. He argued that they are much more open, accessible and because of hyperlinks, much more connected than native apps which tend to be propriety and closed. I also got the impression from the interview that Lee believed that creating content and accessing that content anywhere from any device through a web browser was much more empowering as individuals can continue to be both content creators and content consumers while native apps, created by developers for sale, are really more geared toward content consumption.

I myself tend to use native apps more often on my mobile devices. I find that native apps continue to be better formatted for my screen and when I do want to consume content, it much simpler to access and view through a native app. With regards to content creation, native apps are beginning to feature better content creation tools as developers are catching up in creating native apps that are contain greater functionality. This post, for example, has been written using the WordPress iOS app and I notice that more and more creation tools are being added with every new update of this app.

That having been said, when it comes to the organic nature of the Internet experience through a web browser, native apps do feel clunky and closed. One just can’t flip from page to page, from one varied piece of content to another in the same fluid, serendipitous way on a native app that one can on a web app. Finding and adding the links on this post, for example, is too painful an experience on the native app that I preferred to flip back to the web browser on my computer to add them.

I guess the biggest challenge for web apps to to offer the same experience on a mobile device as they do trough a web browser on a computer. The biggest challenge for native apps could be to add more of an organic feel and make browsing through various forms of information more fluid and open.

Both native apps and web apps are improving all the time. Currently, my choice of apps is dependant on rhe device I use as I prefer using native apps on my mobile devices and web apps on my computer – I tend to go to the better experience on each device. What are your thoughts and preferences?

This infographic links back to it’s original location on

I discovered this infographic from Louise Duncan’s blog found here:

As the tide continues to shift toward mobile devices and the mobile web, devices have become more of a means to an end rather than the end itself. By this, I mean that devices are providing the platform for software apps that people are using to customize their devices to create a more personalized experience. While there is no doubt that connection to the Internet through mobile broadband is critical, the debate now is whether native apps or web apps will rule supreme. Each have their own benefits and pitfalls – let’s look at a few.

Web Apps

Benefits: In my view, there are two key benefit to web apps that make them superior to native apps. The first is that one only requires one native app – a mobile web browser. Leveraging the cloud, web apps make it unnecessary to have a device with tons of built in memory. So long as the device can connect to the internet using a modern mobile web browser, the user can connect to content on the web and save information using online services. Being able to connect to online services and saving content online leads directly to the second benefit of web apps: the ability to access content from multiple devices. While having a mobile device allows anyone to take their content with them, sometimes it is impossible or impractical to use their mobile devices. As a result, by using web apps, anyone can connect to their content from wherever they are, using whatever device they happen to be using. Content saved this way is free from the constraints of any one device.

Drawbacks: The major drawback to webapps is their complete reliance to constant Internet connectivity. While continuous mobile broadband connectivity is available in most highly populated areas around the world, it is not the case that it is available everywhere. Traveling in the country and out of range of a cell tower? Traveling on a subway underground? Is the building you find yourself in weakening the signal to and from the cell tower and lacking wireless internet? If anyone with a huge reliance on web apps run into any of these issues and loses connection to the Internet, then access to all content is gone. Not being able to save content locally creates an over-reliance on Internet connectivity and it is not uncommon for a mobile device to lose connection to the Internet. Therefore, it is not always assured that one will have access to their content when they need it most.

Native Apps

Benefits: The major benefit of native apps is that they can be integrated fully within the operating system of the device. This increases simplicity for the user in that one can use the same set of commands regardless of which app they are using. In addition, the apps can be designed to be used both online or offline. This is an advantage in that one’s content can be always available, regardless of whether the device is connected to the Internet or not.

Drawbacks: One major drawback is that devices have limited storage – only so many apps and so much content can be saved on any one device. Another major drawback is that if the native app does not have an accompanying web app, then one’s content is locked to the device and an only be accessed by that one device. Forgot the device at home? Lose your device? If so, the content on those devices become inaccessible.

So which type of app reigns supreme? It really depends on one’s preference and usage pattern. Ultimately, what may reign supreme are hybrid apps that are both native apps and web apps. This would ensure that content remains available regardless of Internet connectivity and still accessible through other devices by saving copies in the cloud.

I have recently been investigating the concept of QR codes in teaching and learning.  A QR code is a 2-dimensional image with information encoded in it. Below is an example of a QR code for anyone who may not know what a QR code isThe code can be decoded by QR code readers that are usually found on mobile phones and are read using an image of the code taken by the mobile phone’s camera.  The code above is a link to Wikipedia’s English mobile website found at While QR codes have been in existence for quite some time in business (used initially to track product parts), I have only recently come across the concept.  I recently installed a QR reader on my iPhone and made use of QR codes at #ECOO2010 as each of the conference’s sessions had a QR code. The codes were used to allow conference participants to connect to session information on the ECOO website in order to learn more about the sessions.

I was recently reading an Educase article titled “7 Things You Should Know About QR Codes” to learn more about QR codes and their application in education. Some interesting implications for teaching and learning that are mentioned in the article include:

  • QR codes can link the physical and virtual worlds by allowing students to link to more information about an object or historically significant building or area
  • Bringing learning into the physical world and out of the classroom
  • Allowing students whose native language is one other than the dominant language of their school to connect to information about objects or ideas in their native languages

Essentially, the power of QR codes is in their ability to allow learners to use their mobile devices to link to specific information on the internet quickly and easily.  It’s connection to mobile learning appears to be a natural one as it’s often a mobile device that is used to decode the QR codes and to access the information provided through the QR code on the Internet. Using QR codes in education is still very new and much more learning and experimentation is required.  If anyone has any further information on QR codes in education or can share links to projects/experiments in their use in education, please share in the comment field.