This is a guest post from Dr. Kristy Sailors (@BVEdTec), Director of Educational Technology, Blue Valley School District. Kristy will be presenting Apps are Free for a Reason at the November 13-14 Boston iPad Summit.

Educators are challenged to identify mobile Apps that can be integrated into classroom instruction while expanding student knowledge, access and engagement. With the large number of Apps available, how do we determine which Apps are appropriate for student use? Who determines the “best” educational App lists? Where are the Apps reviewed and how can educators access those reviews? As we design digital-age learning experiences for students, educators must review and evaluate all tools, resources and materials used in the instructional realm.

Evaluating mobile Apps prior to incorporating them into classroom instruction is critical to ensure the App is applicable to the subject area, appropriate for classroom use and the content included in the App is acceptable for K-12 students. The evaluation process used by the Blue Valley Educational Technology team includes multiple steps. The first step in the evaluation process is to download and evaluate the App and contents of the App using the team’s mobile App rubric. Applying the rubric to the evaluation process allows the evaluator to score the App functionality, content and features providing a broad overview of the App.

The second step, and probably the most important, in the evaluation process is to conduct keyword searches within the App. Many mobile Apps contain search or publish features where users can share images, videos or projects with others.  An advanced keyword search provides evidence of the types of information shared by users. The results of the search are evaluated to determine if the shared content is appropriate for a K-12 environment.  Evidence of keyword searches has resulted in mobile Apps not being included on district provided devices.

Since mobile Apps are expensive to create App developers often incorporate advertisements within the App.  An additional step in the evaluation process includes navigating through the App to determine if there are advertisements within the App and if those advertisements are static.  The evaluator will review the contents of the App at a variety of times to determine if the advertisements remain static or if the items change.  Inappropriate advertisements have resulted in a variety of Apps not being included on student devices across the district.

Additional items taken into consideration during the evaluation process are in-App purchases, academic application for classroom use, process for exporting student work, and how the App operates within the district’s network and web-filter. Throughout the evaluation process, the Educational Technology team makes every attempt to navigate through all levels of the App to determine if the contents of the App meet the evaluation requirements prior to using with students. Apps that have been approved for classroom use are added to the team’s list of acceptable Apps, and made available on student devices.  To encourage and support teachers as they begin to use the App, the Educational Technology team creates tutorials and sample lessons showcasing the features and functionality of the App.

Evaluating mobile Apps is time consuming and often requires perspectives from multiple users. Identifying a rubric and evaluation process that works best for your community is key to ensure that the content and information shared with students is appropriate for a K-12 environment.

Early Bird Registration for the Boston iPad Summit is OPEN until October 11th. Come learn from Kristy and other educators from around the world.