The revolution in mobile communications technology, which has taken place over the past five years or so, has affected people’s lives in a number of ways, some to a far greater extent than could have been imagined. Take apps as an example; how could anyone have foreseen the impact they would have on how millions of consumers order and purchase goods and services, no matter where they are? They can use their smartphone or tablet PC to find the nearest restaurant, check how long the wait is for the security check at the airport and how many calories they’ve burned when exercising; the list is almost endless. While apps first appeared in the early 1990s, it was not until the introduction of high-speed mobile internet networks, and more recently cloud computing, that apps really began to take off.
While some are quite frivolous and little more than gimmicks, other apps have made a fundamental and positive difference in the way certain key services are delivered. Originally apps were the preserve of the younger generation, who began using social media to communicate with one another and download music, games and movies. It has taken some time for businesses and government departments to catch up. Now that they have, the landscape of many fields and industries has begun to change. In the world of education, for example, the effect has been quite astonishing. Apps are now being used across the board, by teachers and administrative staff, parents and students.
Cloud computing has made it possible for large amounts of data to be stored remotely on highly secure banks of hard drives, which are backed up regularly. Because the data is available online, it can be accessed by any authorized individual, no matter where in the world they are. What’s more, those very same people are able to upload data to their personal files, which in turn can be accessed by others with the relevant permissions. For example, a university lecturer can access his or her files anywhere 24/7, along with coursework uploaded by students.
One of the advantages of using apps is that it is relatively easy for an educator to go to a developer with an idea and have it transformed into an application that will fulfill specific requirements without it being prohibitively expensive. For example, Worry Free Labs services cover the entire process, from discussing the client’s ideas to designing, implementing and launching the app and providing ongoing support.
One of the tedious but essential tasks educators have to carry out on a daily basis is keeping track of which students are attending classes and what subjects they are taking. There are now apps that can import lists of names from address books or files stored remotely and record whether students are absent, present, late or excused. All the attendance data relating to individual courses, including the days and times the classes are due to start and end, can be input into the app, and students can be sent emails detailing their attendance records and grades achieved, while comprehensive data is available to teachers and administrative staff.
One of the most interesting and potentially useful developments of recent years has been the introduction of massive open online courses, or MOOCS. This freely available material is based on in-house courses run by leading universities and colleges. For example, in 2011, Stanford University made several courses available, and within just a few days over 160,000 students had enrolled. The number of MOOCS available has since mushroomed, making it possible for educational establishments around the globe to access the highest quality material available. While some MOOCS now charge a fee, the cost of delivering advanced courses has been slashed dramatically. In a similar vein, open source lectures are readily available to all in video clip form.
The days of carrying heavy textbooks around are numbered thanks to apps that enable students to access online versions of many of the standard books used by schools, colleges and universities. What’s more, it is even possible to apply essential annotations, highlights and notes to PDF files.
It seems almost inevitable that Google apps are going to make an appearance. The company has a whole host of products designed for use in the classroom and lecture hall. ‘Docs’ and ‘Forms’ enable students to publish their work, create presentations and share data. ‘Calendar’ provides a means by which appointments and teaching schedules can be organized and shared. ‘Sites’ is useful for creating websites for individual classrooms, constructing curriculum portals and managing ePortfolios.
Apps have only been around for a few short years, yet in that time have had a massive impact on the delivery of education to students and the administration processes that support it. Perhaps just as importantly, they have enabled educators to communicate with their students in a way they understand and are comfortable with.