Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Evaluating apps for young learners, my class assignment.

When I am considering the use of a particular form of technology, whether it is a web based game or an app, I look at it from the point of view of an early childhood teacher and a special education teacher.  As part of an assignment for the Technology and Authentic Assessment class I recently completed, I chose to develop a rubric for evaluating educational apps for young children.  I started by brainstorming all of the questions I ask when evaluating the app.  The tricky part was making these questions fit in a crazy rubric and having to come up with different criteria for each consideration.  I am glad that I don’t have to create rubrics on a regular basis, they make my head hurt!  Here is the list of questions I used as a basis for the rubric.   

Is the content (skills, instructions) developmentally appropriate?
I have tried apps that have appropriate content but the instructions were only provided in writing.  Umm, my students can’t read.  Delete app.  

Is the interface (navigation) developmentally appropriate?
I just used an app the other day where the menu button was at the bottom and the child’s wrist kept hitting it, returning to the main menu as a result.  It wasn’t long before her frustration level was elevated and she was ready to try a different app.  The learners I work with need very salient cues for navigation.  The interface can not be too subtle.

Does the learner receive helpful feedback?
Avoid dead silence, annoying clapping and syrupy praise.  Does the app know when a child is stuck and provide an appropriate prompt?  

Does it engage the learner? 
Most of my students have difficulty regulating their attention to a task, so this can be a challenge.  

How many and what type of skills can be targeted? 
I want a lot of bang for the buck or if it covers only a few skills, I expect that it does it very well. I like open ended apps that allow for creation of materials or lessons that can support skills across all domains. 

Does it provide a parent guide or other support for parents? 
Apps that do this get huge bonus points in my book.  I am always looking for apps that will help in building the capacity of parents in supporting their child’s development.  

Does it promote co-engagement (multiplayer, turn taking, etc.)?
Again, this is a big bonus and many times these are the apps I go to first.  

Can the tool be adjusted to the learner's level, challenging but not too frustrating?
Obviously I have students who vary greatly in their developmental needs, therefore I need apps that also vary.  If the learner is stuck, please adjust the task, giving a salient cue, so we don't have a tantrum!  

Can data be collected?
I am a special education teacher, I like data. 

Can a product be created and shared?
A product is data, something I can share with others to demonstrate the child’s progress and learning. Additionally, products created by these creative, curious minds and little hands and voices are adorable and parents love to get them.    

Can this technology promote and support play skills? Physical activities? Social engagement? Problem solving? Reflecting?  Planning?
If an app can help me teach play, pretend, and social skills, I am all for it.  Apps that encourage outdoor exploration, physical activity, problem solving and collaboration are a beautiful thing.  

So taking all these things into consideration, here is a link to the rubric.  I included links on the document to other resources regarding this topic.  This is a draft, I would appreciate feedback that would make this rubric more useful.  If I could fine tune it, maybe our EC staff could use it when selecting apps.  As it stands right now, I think it is way too lengthy to be useful so I might need to whittle it down.  Do you have more questions you consider when selecting apps for young learners?  Were some of the criteria redundant?  Which ones were more important, which ones were less important?  Please leave comments on the Google Doc or comment on this blogpost

ECSE App All Star: Alien Assignment

The Fred Rogers Center developed this scavenger hunt type app and it is one of their best yet. The child is introduced to a cute (non threatening), group of aliens who have a broken ship.  The child is asked to take pictures of objects that can be readily found in the environment in order to help repair the ship.  The aliens describe what is broken, using some great vocabulary concepts in their description.  In some cases, the request is a label such as "find a doorknob" or the request is a related to a concept such as "find something heavy".  The child is asked to take 4 pictures.  The only thing I would change is adding the ability to repeat the prompt because several times the child forgot the prompt as they were walking around the room searching.   

The windshield is broken, find something you can see through.
When the child has taken all of the pictures, he is prompted to give the phone to an adult.  This app gets bonus points for including caregivers in the activity, it is a great app for playing together.  The adult's job is to review the pictures, selecting a thumbs up if the picture matches the request.  If a thumbs down is given, the prompt is repeated and another picture can be taken.   When all of the pictures pass adult inspection, the aliens review the repairs and thank the child for the assistance. This app is useful in Early Childhood Special Education and speech therapy because many of the concepts presented are common targeted concepts in the area of receptive communication skills.  I also appreciate that the app gets kids up and moving, engaging that brain and connecting the real world to the virutal world!  It is also an opportunity to practice recall.  At the end of the activity you can work with the child on recalling  the 4 prompts and pictures. The pictures are not saved to the camera roll so the adult needs to practice some recall skills too.  At the end of the activity you could also do a drawing activity, encouraging the child to draw a picture of one of the objects they photographed, or draw a picture of the aliens.   This app could also be used with parents on home visits.  An early intervention teacher could model the use of this app, demonstrating all of the opportunities it provides for working on a variety of skills. Many thanks to the Fred Rogers Center for this app.  

The compass is broke, help by finding something that points!