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There’s an app for that: Educators must plan for a successful launch

a wall of phone appsEducator Randon Ruggles is a big fan of using apps for tablets and smartphones as educational tools, but acknowledges that they can be a source of frustration.

“I see a huge disconnect with what could be done and what’s going on in the classroom,” he said.

As the Technology Director at FAIR School in Minneapolis, Ruggles works to bridge that gap. The former English teacher also helps the next generation of teachers get a handle on technology at Saint Mary’s University, where he is an adjunct professor.

It’s been four years since Ruggles introduced iPods and iPads to classrooms. The world of educational apps changed vastly in that time, he said.

Now apps are easily customized for individual students and teachers, and it’s easy to buy multiple licenses. But while the technology is cool, it’s very important that schools and teachers harness it in a thoughtful way.

“They have to see where it is going to fit in the classroom,” Ruggles warned.

That means picking and testing apps that fit with your curriculum, developing a detailed plan for use of any hardware in the classroom and building professional development into the process.

Which app complements the curriculum?

“It’s always been about the curriculum,” Ruggles said.

He looks carefully at teachers’ plans to find gaps where the iPad can be used or can be used more effectively. Every request to purchase an app must include an extensive rubric with an educational goal and how the app will benefit students.

Ruggles explains that when used correctly, students understand that iPads are just another educational tool, like a whiteboard.

“How are you going to use them? Have a plan. What’s the educational goal? That is why we do start with scoping sequences,” he said.

Teachers should also provide a list classroom apps to parents so that learning can be reinforced at home for those who have access to the tools.

Creating a roll out plan for classroom apps

If there’s an accepted educational goal, the next thing to create is a detailed plan to roll out technology and apps to the classroom.

This is something that Ruggles talks about with the college students he teaches. Questions he asks include: Where will you store the machine? Do students share machines? How will you sync machines? How will you introduce it to students?

Being prepared to help in case of problems is key. If something isn’t working in the classroom, it needs to be repaired quickly.

Ruggles sets up a “golden master” for the teachers he works with: an iPad set up exactly as he believes they want it for their classes. All of the documents and apps are included. Teachers can then use the golden master to familiarize themselves with the program and to make sure everything, including education apps, works correctly on their students’ devices.

Technology requires professional development for teachers

Schools and districts that adopt technology must also offer rigorous professional development programs for teachers, keeping them up on the latest technology and providing a feedback loop.

“For something like this to work effectively, there needs to be open lines of communication,” Ruggles said. “It’s every day asking ‘How did that app work?’ and ‘How did that lesson go?’ You can’t say, ‘We have professional development in May and we’ll talk about this then.’”

Using technology well requires updating for educators and processes, too.

Top-rated apps for education

While app stores are constantly adding new offerings, Ruggles noted there are some proven winners for the teachers he works with. These include:

But, he adds, keeping up with all of the apps is one of the challenges of his job.

“How many thousands of apps come out every day in the app store?,” he asked.

Follow Randon Ruggles on Twitter and read his blog at http://fiftynineminutes.blogspot.com.

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