Publishers, Educators Rush to Develop Mobile Education Applications

Published December 21, 2010

Schools’ demand for mobile educational applications is rising rapidly, such that some innovative educators are developing their own applications for smart phones and other mobile platforms instead of waiting for the rising industry to deliver what they need. Others are quite happy with the pace of development.

Florida Virtual School, an online K-12 institution that serves thousands of students around the world, is a year into its own app development project. It unveiled its $5 Algebra I study app for the iPhone in January 2010—in partnership with developer gWhiz LLC—and is proceeding with similar offerings in other courses.

Apps Made to Order
Jeramy Gatza, the school’s innovation manager, said the apps are being created for two reasons: The school doesn’t want to wait for the textbook industry and mobile startups to come up with the products it needs, and it wants to craft apps that precisely match its curricula.
“We didn’t just want to send [students] to some app that we—I don’t want to say ‘can’t trust,’ but that we don’t know that well,” Gatza said. “We don’t have any control over the quality of that or the experience of that. They don’t 100 percent align to our courses, either. That gets a little complicated, and students don’t like complication. They like easy things.”
Charters Save Money
Other educators are happy to choose from the offerings already available on mobile platforms.

Brian Setser, CEO of the North Carolina Virtual Public School, said his students are already making use of 75 free apps. That number will expand to include a number of paid apps, he said, when the state receives its share of federal “Race to the Top” funding. In general, however, the school takes a cost-conscious approach.

Teachers, he said, are being asked to include at least one mobile app in their curricula.
“Learning needs to become more personalized and customized,” Setser said, touting the educational possibilities of mobile apps. “It’s not possible to have personalized or customized learning without a device that’s on your person at all times.”
‘Slow, Cautious’ Growth
Martin Horejsi, an assistant professor of instructional technology at the University of Montana-Missoula, is an advocate of mobile learning. The industry might be exploding, he said, but educators are lagging in their implementation of the technology.
“It’s slow, but it’s cautious. Right now, I honestly think it’s going over the top of us,” he said.
But despite some educators’ slowness to adopt them, mobile devices are already proving useful in the classroom with the available applications.
“Every time I go into the class, I’ve got access to video cameras and the Internet and spreadsheets in one tiny device, as well as access to video games and language references and translators,” Horejsi said. “It’s a stunning device.”
Meanwhile, Florida Virtual School is proceeding with plans to expand and refine its offerings.
“It’s on-demand learning. It’s where we need to focus,” Gatza said.
Joel Mathis ([email protected]) is a writer in Philadelphia