Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apple Store iPod & Educational Apps Investigation

A little over a week ago I reported on my hair pulling attempt to learn about Android by a visit to a Verizon store. Shortly thereafter I visited the local Apple store to compare apples to ... err...

It took two visits to be sure that what I experienced the first time was for real. Let's put it this way: Apple wins the prize. Hands down. The first visit had a straightforward plan: go listen to one of their "workshops" on the iPod Touch and play with one to compare it to the Android devices. Look at the educational applications. It was a relatively calm weekday evening at the mall.

Over two hours later (at least) I stumbled brain dead out of the store... it wasn't just the hoards of massively friendly and knowledgeable blue shirted squadrons that politely offered to assist me, left me alone if I wanted to just play, and used technology (!) to summon expertise if they didn't know the answer to one of my questions. But the guy who had the honor of leading the workshop let me quiz him for an hour and a half about the iPod, the apple developer program, the hardware platforms, the applications, the functionality.... he looked a bit worn out by the end, but carried it off well.

It became clear that another trip was in order. So this time I hit the store on a weekend afternoon - busiest time. Clipboard, pen and water bottle in hand. Same customer service experience.  A swarm of knowledgeable blue Apple people, and in spite of having to tactfully elbow lots of kids away from me who wanted "my" iPod to play with, I managed to take 5 pages of detailed notes virtually unmolested. And then I hit the iPads for comparison.

But let's get down to the main point, before you think I've been totally dazzled by glitz and all the friendly faces. (Not that I have anything against friendly faces and fun gadgets)

Compared to the Android online app store, I found the Apple online store easy to use, and I found not only a whole section dedicated to Educational applications, but today they were highlighting Special Education applications. I pored over them. Read reviews. Compared content. Tried to find out how many were in the library, but that is the one question no one could tell me.  A lot obviously. Although the search engine doesn't support boolean operators, it does a credible job if you have some idea what you would like to find. Most of the educational apps were so cheap I found myself thinking: how does anyone make a living off of .99 cent applications? or $1.99. or $2.99.

Then I remembered the educational (and other) app developers I've chatted with in the last week or so. They don't make a living off these apps. Well, none of the ones I spoke to anyway. They create them because they enjoy the challenge, and feel it is a good thing to be helping other people at the same time. Sure, they get PR from their work, which no doubt they put to good use in some other endeavor, but that seems only fair.

Suddenly a Buzz Word hit me: digital literacy. There is lots of talk about the need to get the public more digitally literate. Well. When using an educational application (as opposed to a shoot-em up game) these kids are becoming fluent with modern technology, sophisticated technology. HA!  In the hands of pre-schoolers and elementary school children. This is putting the hardware to good use. And the surface of the possibilities here, to use cutting edge devices with creative applications, is only just being touched (oh.....that is a bad pun.....sorry).

I am reminded that it doesn't take big projects, corporations and scads of people to make a difference. Very small scale (I looked them up) app developers who sell .99 cent applications, are working at the grassroots level. Their efforts add up - all those applications and I don't have space to copy in many of the happy reviews posted by users (words like "love" and "thrilled" and "can't wait for more" abound). People want educational applications. Good ones. So as to the comment in my prior post that one researcher claimed that people don't think highly of educational applications - my anecdotal evidence is telling me that yes, they do, if there are good ones to choose from.  Kids learn some content (alphabet, foreign language, math, motor skills etc), kids start on the road to becoming digitally literate without knowing that is what they are doing. Good stuff.

I've got some school administrators and teachers lined up to talk to soon about their perspective of using iPod and iPad applications in the classroom. Can't wait.

Oh...the same guy who let me frizzle his neurons for so long on my first visit was not only in the store again today, but came up to me to say "hi" and "how are you doing" and could he help me and...well....a lot more brain cells were worn out between the two of us after that.


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