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Nilofar Ansher


Curating the World of Educational Apps

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With a bank of 40,000 educational apps that have been cataloged, reviewed, and approved, a Tennessee initiative hopes to make it easier for educators to use apps in the classroom and beyond, writes Toni Furhman.

Sometimes, finding the right app can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Between Apple and Android, the number of apps available for download has surpassed one million. If you're an educator looking to utilize these apps in the classroom, the search can be even tougher: According to a recent ranking of how apps are used, gaming comes first and educational usage is not even listed.

For faculty who see the potential for mobile devices in education, this is a wasted opportunity. After all, the National Education Association estimates that "smartphones and, to a lesser extent tablets like the iPad, will be in the hands of every student in the United States within five years."

Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), decided she could not let such potential slip away. Three years ago, she created the TBR eLearning Initiative, a central resource to assist educators looking for mobile apps to facilitate the learning process.

"I was sitting at a meeting, and looking at people texting, playing games, and searching the internet," she recalls. "When I asked the participants what they had on their devices in terms of education, they all said the same thing: nothing. Then I went to the publishers, who said the devices were not built for that." So, Melton started visiting websites, looking for apps. If the app was educational, she put it in an app bank.

In the three years since, the app bank has compiled an impressive selection of 40,000 educational apps. In addition, the TBR eLearning Initiative has developed a roster of volunteers who connect educators with the app world, and assist them in identifying apps for teaching, learning, workforce, and professional development.

In her search for like-minded colleagues, Melton has a big pool from which to draw: TBR consists of 45 institutions with a combined enrollment of more than 190,000 students, including six state universities, 13 community colleges, and 26 technology centers.

The app bank is not a dumping ground for apps that may have educational value. The collection of apps is actually curated, making it easier for educators to find and evaluate apps.

The curation process involves the following:

  • App-review teams that evaluate mobile apps for teaching and learning
  • Quality-control standards for using mobile devices and apps in education and business
  • A set of common standards, developed by system librarians, to categorize apps
  • A collection of data, case studies, and materials about how apps have been used in the classroom
  • A central unit to purchase the latest mobile devices and apps for testing by faculty and staff
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