I originally posted this in 2013 and I’m delighted to discover that apps comparable to some of these do exist today. I’ll likely post reviews of related apps in the near future.
There are plenty of great education apps, but there is clearly room for more, especially those that support self-directed learning, project-based learning, simulation learning, and other forms of experiential education. With that in mind, here is a list of my 10 favorite apps that don’t exist, as least as far as I know. In some cases, there are apps that get close, but none really hit it out of the park, at least not in the usage scenarios that I have in mind.
- Log It – There are dozens of tools for journaling, but this one is valuable because of its simplicity. Open the app, log a thought or event with a picture, a scribble, a short video clip, a few paragraphs, or a combination. By the way, if you add an image, you can also include a speech bubble/balloon…a useful and fun little feature. A simple pull-down menu allows you to attach it to one or more categories, and it automatically timestamps your entry. If you want, you can set the app to instantly share your entry (every entry or by category) with a Google Doc, Evernote, one or more email addresses or to your blog. This works great in the classroom when students are working on projects or field trips. Students can log their progress and thoughts during the project/trip, and by having a “send to my teacher” category, it automatically sends the logs to a designated Google folder (or an email address) for teacher review. If the student is offline when logging something, it just waits for a connection and sends it then. While the app integrates with many other applications, it works well alone, especially given that all data is stored online and that it can autosync so that you have an offline record as well. Did I mention that you can have the app on multiple devices (including a desktop version)?
- MoPo – If you are wondering, the name stands for mobile portfolio. Yes, there are plenty of portfolio products, but not many great ones for mobile devices. This one has some promising features that work well in many of the emerging competency and standards-based learning environments. It starts by a teacher or student creating a list of competencies or standards. This can be done on a mobile device or through your online account in any browser. For each standard, you have the option of creating a short audio, video and/or text message to help explain the focus of that standard or competency. When students use the app, they can quickly review these expectations at any point in the future. Also, for each standard, you can create specific specifications on what can be submitted, or you leave it open-ended. From the user/learner/student side, all that they do to start is select the list of appropriate standards from a common repository. In this first version, all standards are visible to any other users of the app (although the developers promise more control in future versions). Once the standards are selected, the user is walked through a few other basic settings (like who, if anyone, you want to share it with). This allows that person to log into the app and view the portfolio in progress or as a finished product.To start adding artifacts to the portfolio, clicks on a standard and add items. Add text, audio, video or a combination right into the cloud-based storage attached to the app; or you can link to a shared Google Doc, an Evernote file, a blog, a Youtube video, and any one of a dozen other sources. Offline storage is available as well, but adding lots of video can quickly fill up the memory on your typical student’s mobile device.For each entry, there is a small text box where you are asked to explain how this artifact demonstrates your understanding of the standard and to what level. The “level” part comes through a simple pull-down menu of 3-10 teacher or user-created levels. At any point, you can share an individual artifact with another person, just because you think it might interest them or because you would like feedback on it. When you send it, there is an automated message attached about your sharing the artifact so that _________ (Choose from a menu of ten different common reasons, or enter your own unique reason.). You can also share all the artifacts within a given standard.Here is where the app gets really exciting. When you share an individual artifact, all artifacts connected to a standard, or an entire portfolio with a person; the app provides a simple way to give feedback. The recipient types, speaks, or video record their feedback/response on the spot. There is also the option of filling out a pre-developed rubric (generated when the standards were added). Before clicking “send”, the app gives a few options on what to do with it. store it in the portfolio permanently (only if you have teacher rights), send it as private feedback that is not visible to anyone else in the portfolio, set it to show up in the portfolio but expire in a certain number of days, or (for all of you spy fans) choose “auto-destruct,” which permanently deletes the feedback once you read, watch or listen to it. Choose from different entertaining special effects for the auto-destruct option.
- Build It – Have you ever dreamed of building a house, but you were unsure about what it will cost and what goes into it? Now you can experience the entire process in a simulated house building app. Play individually or as a team (like a husband and wife), which also allows you to step on each other’s toes at different parts of the game. The game starts with a budget and works through the entire process. You work with architects (or directly with builders depending upon your choices) all the way through inspectors. In fact, just for fun, the final event is hosting your first dinner party with friends and/or family (which has its own pleasantries and risks). The app uses current industry-standard prices for all parts, and it takes into account many local building codes and town regulations (cities can add their info to the app for free). It also includes some twists and unexpected “problems” that you get to work through. The great part is that you can build as many houses as you want before you decide to take on an actual building project. Users in the pilot release rave about the app, with several families going on to build a house for real, and reporting that the app was amazing preparation.This new breed of learning app has great promise for allowing people to gain knowledge and experience in an unfamiliar area with authentic feedback that will be of tremendous help once they try the real thing. Did I mention that the App is only $1.99? Most of the revenue comes from ads that they sell to local architects, builders, interior decorators and the like in the area in which you build your simulation home. No worries, though. They do not give your information to those companies. They simply give recommended resources at the end of the game, suggesting that certain people would likely be a good fit for you based upon features in your gameplay.
- GamifyMe – Do you need a little extra motivation or excitement in your life? This very simple app helps you out. GamifyMe allows you to set up challenges for yourself. Here is how it works. Choose from a list of pre-existing life challenges or set your own (users can also add new challenges to a general repository of all users or a private file). Then set your criteria for reaching it. Can you just check a box when you reached it, or you can require evidence through a photo, video, essay or something else. The last part is to choose a reward. The list of options are continually growing in the app. It can play your favorite song, reward you with a “ticket” to do something fun like watch a movie or go out for ice-cream, or anything else that you want to enter. Note: The app can’t actually give you these things. For some, it just announces your reward and then you get to go do it.By the way, if you want to play GamifyMe with others, then you can create or join a Gamify Life Guild (GLG) where you can set challenges for others in the group, and it keeps a leader board for the group.This app has all sorts of potential for learning organizations, but it also works as a standalone app for the person looking to add a bit of fun and motivation to life’s daily activities.
- Museum Builder – This app works for individual users or it makes for a great learning activity for classes. The concept is pretty straightforward. Individually or as a group, you get to build a virtual museum within the app. You start by choosing a name for your museum and selecting a variety of features (that you can change at a later time) like number of exhibits, number of floors, location, a description of the museum, etc. Once you finish the setup, Museum Builder automatically creates a museum website with your custom information on it. This can be private within the app or you can can actually publish it to the web. The web sites are all done within a WordPress instances, so you can go there after the fact to edit access rights, making it work well for sharing work within a school.Once you get through the setup, start building your exhibits. Infused within this app are all sorts of non-intrusive tips and lessons about what makes for a great exhibit. You can include video, audio, images, as well as text.Play this individually or in groups. So, a teacher can create a museum and then assign groups or individuals to different artifacts.
- Scavenger Hunt – This app doesn’t have many features, but it allows anyone to create an enjoyable digitized Scavenger Hunt. To set one up, just give it a name, create a list of items or clues (in text, image, audio, or video format), choose who can participate, pick a start time, and select a deadline. It can be open to the the entire world, open by individual request, open to the first 10/20/30/100 to sign up, or you can set it for participation by invitation only. If “team play” is enabled” then participants can also select their partners and anything that is collected by one person goes into a single team folder. In the case of team play, the content posted by individuals auto-syncs across all team members.All participant progress in a given Scavenger Hunt goes to a quick progress board that logs all tasks that are completed. The hunt organizers can make this private, visible to select participants or to all players. At the end, the app makes it easy for the organizers(s) to quickly verify completion of individuals and that they got it done by the deadline (each individual entry is time stamped as well, by the way). You can set it so that there is a single winner, so that there are winners in different categories (most creative, fastest, etc.), or you can set it up so that each team earns one or more badges (not to be confused with competency badges that are increasingly used in many environments).There is an in-game communication tool as well, allowing participants to send messages to team members or the organizer. From the flip side, the organizer can send out message to all participants, individual teams, or individuals. This is a helpful feature when the winners returned and/or you need to bring the game to a premature end for some reason (like an impending storm, for example).
This makes for a great class activity, fun at parties, or an excellent tool to keep students engaged on a field trip.
- WhoAmI? – What type of a gamer and I (from the Gamer’s DNA site)? What is my love language (from Chapman’s book and resources)? What are my strengths (from StrengthFinder)? What are my learning preferences? What personality type am I? This app provides you with a fun way to get to know others in a group. It is basically a collection of fun an interesting surveys with a personalized page that shows your survey results in a trendy infographic format. Many of the surveys come from popular and existing sources, but the app also allows users to create their own and add them to the database. Each user then gets a WhoAmI? profile/infographic. The app is set up so that many surveys are free, but others have a small fee that can be purchased in bulk or individually. Again, you can also add your own surveys using the web interface. The culminating “WhoAmI” profile/infographic gives you all sorts of fun discussion starters. You can share your profile with a group (like your class), with individuals, or you can make it public. If you are below a certain age, the “public” option is automatically disabled.There is one last feature that is worth noting.You can great a group code that each participant enters and that allows you to generate an infographic that represents the collective results of the entire group. So, you can have a class infographic that says things like 75% are visual learners, 50% are Achievement Gamers, and 90% love ice cream.
- EveryDay – EveryDay does just what it sounds like. It allows you to set a goal for doing something every day. Or, you can set it for every Monday, every Tuesday and Thursday, once a week, etc. There are a variety of suggestions like (see a sunset, give someone a hug, read a chapter in a book, write a poem, sing a song, go out to lunch with a friend, meet someone new, go on a walk, etc. You can create choose your own goals well. Then you get daily (or whatever increment you set) reminders.When you complete the task, you log it with a checkmark, picture, video or text and you move on. You can share individual entries or all entries for a given goal with one or more people. In fact, you can even set it to automatically send to select people, which serves as a great way for having an accountability partner around a given goal. Along with each goal comes a report that shows how you are doing. Each goal is also stored and logged separately in the app, but it is easy to move from goal to goal.
- TrackMyLearn – Do you want to learn something new, but you want a little help staying organized and on track? This is the app for you. Here is how it works. When you open the app, you have the option to “Learn something new!” Click on it and that takes you through a series of screens. The first screen asks for you for a question. This is the question that will drive your learning or inquiry. They give examples, but you can put whatever you want. How can I make a million dollars in a month? How can I become the most informed person in the city about ________? How can I learn to ride a bike? Once you enter a question, it takes you to screen two, where it asks you, “How will you learn it? Here you enter a list of tentative plans on what you will do to answer the question. It can be plans for things that you want to read, people that you want to meet, places you want to visit, etc. Don’t worry. You can edit any of this at a later time. The third screen asks you how you will document your progress? It gives you three options: in an integrated Google Doc, in a blog (that you need to connect with app…you add in the app and it posts to the blog), or in the built-in simple log (that allows you to make your log visible to one or more people…like at teacher or classmate). This features works great for a teacher or parent who wants to see how a student is progressing through a personalized learning plan. The next screen asks you to describe the culmination of your work. What product or performance will you create that will be evidence that you reached your goal/answered the question deeply? The next screen allows you to review all that you entered and to establish deadlines for items (you can always adjust them later). You can also send automatic notifications to a teacher or yourself if you have a deadline coming or you are at the deadline.You get to document everything that you are learning in the “How are you going to learn this?” section, including adding text, audio, images, or video. So, if you interview someone, you can actually store that interview right in the app, or you can link to items stored in Evernote, GoogleDocs, or Notability.
This app provides an excellent platform for organizing and tracking self-directed learning, whether it is done on your own, in school, in a home-based education, or as part of your professional development at work.
- FieldTripShow – This app is designed specifically for class field trips. The teacher can create questions or challenges that individual students need to complete. Students store their answers and related artifacts (text, images, video, text with a comment) for each question. Once the field trip is over, the app walks students creating a simple presentation that pulls from all the artifacts created during the trip, including an introductory video/audio message of 30-60 seconds and a concluding video/audio message of 30-60 seconds. The presentation can be exported and mailed as a PPT, PDF, or video.