Dinosaurs in the kitchen, Free apps, and more. In this episode, Andy, Emily, and Adam are joined again by special guest, Dr. Rachel Ralph from The Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver, Canada. Are apps even sustainable to run? Is augmented reality the way forward? Plus, hear some research talk from Rachel's studies.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
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Hi everyone, we're back again for another School of School podcast and we have Rachel Ralph as our, doctor Rachel Ralph in fact, is our guest today. She comes from the faculty of Centre for Digital Media. And one of the things that we are going to talk about today, which I am personally very excited about is apps, educational apps. That's quite a brief, educational apps because we've obviously got apps from apps that teachers use all the way through to ones that pupils and parents use. But I'd love to hear you start Rachel, just telling us about the use of apps in education, and I'm hoping that today we might even get some recommendations.
I'll do my best. Thank you for having me here again, and I'm excited to talk about this. I've actually done a lot, a lot of research around educational apps and apps in general, especially when I was doing my PhD, because I was focused a lot on that and finding the right app, which, that was a lot of fun. There's millions of apps in the app store and every year it grows. I think you can go onto the statistics and just find a growth that is endless. But what's really interesting is that a high proportion of educational apps is targeted at young kids. And I think, think it's like 70% of the apps in the app store are for kids, which is interesting considering adults are the ones using it. I think it's 70% don't quote me. I can't remember the exact number.
It's probably increased because these numbers keep growing and that's a huge amount of apps. And I think when I was looking for my research because I was doing research with preschool kids, there was over 300,000 apps just for preschool kids. How am I supposed to go through 300,000 apps? I think I did what probably most parents do, best apps for preschool kids, typed it in, and found somebody's blog where they'd had already written about it. And then I basically would download all of those and then start playing them myself and I think that's how a lot of us hear about what apps to use nowadays. Yeah, they have the top, whatever, in the app stores, and you can search by category, but I think a lot of us find apps through friends or families or parents or teachers or whoever. Whatever it is we're trying to look at stuff.
I was trying to find a drawing one and I was looking for something particular, so I talked to my drawing friends and like, which ones have you used? Because if you're going to spend money on an app you want to make sure it's the right one, which is funny. Some of them are 99 cents, but I still hesitate to pay that 99 cents cause I'm like, well, is this going to be worth it? And so it's really interesting when you're trying to choose these.
Actually there's a lot of research there around educational apps and choosing educational apps. I've written a couple papers about this, but in particular, people have created rubrics on how to choose it. So what components does it have that makes it a really robust educational app? And a lot of people have done research on how to use these rubrics to- and I have done it myself- to choose your apps, but that doesn't help the search, yeah.
Just very quickly, Rachel, what I would find massive, can you point us in a direction? Can you like, where would I find that? Cause there'd be, I guarantee is loads of teachers listening to this. They're going, how do I get my hands on that? Cause it's a minefield, as you just said with the number. What do you look for? Just literally rubric for educational apps? Is that what I'm searching?
Yeah... yeah, I would search for rubric for educational apps. I think a lot of it is interesting because it's a lot in educational research theory and that's not accessible to a lot to teachers to begin with. So I think that's a bit of a challenge. I mean, if you want, you can look me up and I can point you in the direction cause I've written a couple papers. There's several of them, they've evolved over the years. If I just say the author's names, and that won't necessarily direct you to the right place, because you're going to get these papers, but-
So what should they search for, Rachel, if going to type something into Google? Rachel Ralph space...
Actually, if you just go rachelralph.com I have all my scholarly articles on there and I've written a couple pieces. In particular, I wrote a piece for Canadian Teacher Magazine on how to choose the right app and I go through the rubric that I use. It's a smaller rubric there. There's more robust, very lengthy rubrics. There's ones that are just simple. It was actually just four pillars like on how to choose the different parts of the app. And so they are really good when you're trying to assess, but it doesn't help when you're doing your first search. Right? At some point you have to find a couple apps. You don't just want to go to the app store and then you download this rocket ship math game. Okay, no, that's not the right one. Then you download the next one.
So I think referring to parent blogs that a lot of people... that's what they do all the time. Double check, because some are ads that they purposely have some at the top because of whatever sponsorship and then a lot through parents, friends, family, and then there's some apps that you just would never search for that can be really good. I think it depends. You have to really think what's the purpose behind it? For me, a lot of the apps that I choose, I really want it to be open and creative. And so I'm looking for more creative space places where it's a little bit more open ended.
Because I hope this is really just a quick answer, one or the other, because again, I'm just with my teacher head on. Would you go for option A, which is get as many apps on a tablet device or whatever as possible and kind of have just a kind of surface level understanding of them or should I go for fewer apps, but understand them better? Cause both of those are at my fingertips.
Can I choose option C and spork the idea, as I like to call it where I'd combine it? I would probably have one or two that I would know really well. Especially if you're going to use them for longer periods of time, but then I would have a lot of different types because you never know, especially with kids, what they want to try and what will be different.
A lot of iPads are typically shared in schools. So you want to have a diverse option because what's going to attract one kid to an app, might be something that attracts a different kid to an app. So there's going to be universal ones that they all kind of want to play, but not always. And then also ask kids, they talk to each other, they've seen things, they've played things, they can describe the kinds of things that they want. Find out what they want to try or they've gone to a friend's house and played this app. They know more about what they actually want to do than what we think they want to do.
I worry about the ecosystem, the entire ecosystem of educational tools because we need to look at the other side of it, right? So you said there's probably 300,000 preschool apps or there was.
Oh definitely more now. That was like four or five years ago when I looked.
It might even be a million now, right? And that's an insane amount of apps. Now from a developer point of view, every single one of those apps has taken a tremendous amount of effort to create, right? Like user experience people, user interface people, programmers, developers, pedagogical people, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, right? So look, even the simplest cheapest app is going to be in the hundreds of thousands to generate and if you want to do something groundbreaking you can add a zero or two to that, right? And that's what it costs. So, that's real money, right?
So we developed an app, I developed an app, I've been doing software development for over 20 years now. At Maths — No Problem!! we developed an app for teachers called Visualizer. I know what we spent on that and it's an eye watering amount of money, right? And now we're faced with supporting and software updates and da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. How can we keep this going? Cause now you've launched it. You got to keep it running, right? And you got to keep fixing it and improving it. And that's a real challenge.
But if I'm competing with a million other software programmers and institutions for that attention, there's no way I'm going to get a return. First of all, I'd probably have to give it away for free if I want anybody to use that because like you rightfully pointed out Rachel, even 99 cents, you're going to think twice about pushing that get button. Even free apps you go, is this just going to clutter my device, right? Is this just another one of those things that I'm never going to use and I won't know how to delete it or whatever? And then it will always be there and I don't want that. I like a nice clean device. Whatever your motivation is, it's hard to get people to download your app and get them to use it, right? Even if it's well intended and knowing that you'll never make any money at it and that's what I worry about. Like, is this even sustainable?
Yeah, so a lot of this I think is around brands, increasingly, and how you create brands. So for me, Toca Boca for example. I think they must be about 10 years ago now. And I remember that was seriously, big deal. They kind of coming in and looking at play. You could argue based on a previous conversation we've had with Rachel, it would be entertainment potentially, but certainly it was looking, so, Toca Boca could create multiple apps, but they've branched out into other areas of play and the characters and they're cross platform and cross functional. Then, you've got classic, big brand companies who are creating apps, but they're using it almost like marketing. It's kind of so that you are not just going to be buying the app. You're going to be buying other things because you're part of a wider community.
You've got it there and you're utilizing it regularly. So for Maths — No Problem!! it's a trusted brand for maths learning. And I guess that there, when you're thinking about it, yeah you are right. You're putting a lot of money in there, but the idea is to support the learning, which is part of a bigger element. But then you've got things like BBC and you've got all of the apps that they've got going on. The one that breaks my heart is Nosy Crow who unusually came from a publishing perspective to create apps and they didn't just put books on screen, but they worked with software developer. They had teams like you do, like developing these books, but they actually were written with children's authors and illustrators, like good quality children's authors and illustrators to create beautiful books, but that were truly playful and didn't just do what a book on screen did, but went deeper.
So it wasn't instead of, but it was a richer, it's just a different experience of storytelling. But they, I know I think was it two years ago or three years ago now, time goes so fast, they pulled out because as you said, it just wasn't sustainable financially to keep developing apps, to keep creating them. And I find that quite sad.
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It'll also be interesting to see where the future of apps go, especially with augmented reality, right? I think a lot more places have been playing around with that technology. What's going to happen? We all know, everybody knows Pokemon Go was huge, but the thing is they had Ingress before that, which was the same thing. It's just, as soon as they added the Pokemon go IP 800 million people signed up and played. But most people actually turn off the augmented reality feature cause it's actually harder to play. But I think that I've also seen places look at augmented reality as different. It doesn't have to be, I call it camera on augmented reality and camera off because you're still augmenting your reality whether camera is on or off. You're in an imaginative space, right?
We have the stars, the constellation. So that's technically augmenting your reality because the constellation isn't in your room. It doesn't actually say the name of it when you look up at the stars, so it'll be interesting to see where that's going to push apps and whether it's going to have the legs it needs to have. Or are we going to go back to drawing and Toontastic, and another one I like, ChatterPix, and all these very simple things? Are we going to go back to those because the other ones just don't get it? I hope. I want to see the push forwards, so-
I think the kids are going to use it in ways that people, when they were developing things, weren't planning and that's the bit that's super exciting for me. So I love watching. I got the boys this sort of augmented reality, like style, with very small letters, let's be honest. It was an app and the dinosaur can come into your kitchen and the T-Rex goes around and the kids are like, "It looks like it's in your kitchen", but the best thing that they did was they went and made a movie with their movie app and then embedded the dinosaur coming in. And my son's on the floor and the cereals all over the place and they're playing, they're cutting around and they're, they're, they're playing and creating fascinating literacies and creative ideas that they could do with pens and papers and recording and cassette. But I think that when we can start looking at augmented reality and apps and letting the kids maybe come up with things that we haven't even thought about, I get quite excited about that possibility.
Rachel, thank you so much for joining us. It's been really eyeopening. There you have it folks. Make sure you check out rachelralph.com.
Thank you for joining us on the School to School podcast.