Three professors use research to create mobile app rubrics for app evaluation

mobile-apps-education Would you buy a car without knowing how well it could perform on the road? No? The same principle applies to purchasing mobile apps for the classroom, experts argue. Without research-based rubrics based on vetted learning principles, you’re driving blind. Now, educators can evaluate apps to truly make a difference in classroom learning.

According to Malia Hoffmann, assistant professor at Concordia University, Calif., as of fall 2013, there were more than 1 million apps for Apple and 1.1 million apps for Android, she said during her session during the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) 2014, .

“These numbers are overwhelming, and outside of hearing word-of-mouth suggestions, or looking at third-party source recommendations online, there was a lack of research-based rubrics to help educators evaluate these apps for their schools,” explained Hoffmann. “Which is why, based on well-known research on learning principles, my colleagues and I developed these four rubrics.”

(Next page: The four rubrics)

The learning principles, called “Mobile Design Principles,” are based on two industry-vetted research reports (Herrington and Elias) on mobile learning. Principles include: real world application, affordance of mobile, exploration, userability, personalization, and much more. For the full Mobile Learning Principles graphic and information, click here.

Outside of mobile design, instructional design is also factored into the rubrics, said Kristi Shaw, assistant professor at Marian University, Wis. The instructional design used in the rubrics is adapted from recent research (Keskin and Metcalf) and includes four main “Theories of Learning & Instructional Strategies” for mobile learning: Behaviorism, Constructivism, Social Learning, and Connectivism.

“It’s important that you not just have the drill and practice in your apps as part of behaviorism,” Shaw noted. “Try to incorporate all four aspects of the theories of learning and instruction; for example, have some for drill and practice, but also for collaboration, problem-solving, and social network sharing. Mobile apps that include all four characteristics are great apps.”

For more information on the four instructional strategies, click here.

Four incredible rubrics

Based on the research on mobile design principles and instructional strategies, Hoffmann, Shaw, and Tonya Hameister, assistant professor at Marian University, developed four rubrics for educators to formally evaluate mobile applications:

1. Cross-content rubric.

This rubric is the most general of the rubrics, enabling educators to evaluate any number of apps on a wide variety of subjects or for diverse educational purposes.

The categories included in the rubric include: consumption, creation, collaborative, feedback, social, and interface. All categories are broken down into: requires development, meets expectations or exceeds expectations.

“Consumption means the mobile app is used for pure knowledge acquisition, something like Khan Academy,” explained Shaw. “Creation is making something on the device; collaboration is self-explanatory; feedback is ‘can the teacher provide information on student work?’ and ‘can the student provide feedback on his or her work as well?’ social is integrating social networking; and interface is usability, including functionality like text-to-speech.”

For the cross-content rubric, click here.

2. Special education rubric.

Slightly different in that the rubric focuses more on certain criteria, the special education rubric can also be used for general education, too, said Hameister.

“This rubric focuses more on research-based criteria we know special education experts need to incorporate into classroom learning; for instance, ‘chunking’ information so that the mobile app doesn’t overwhelm or frustrate the student; how well the app tailors specifically to the ability of the learner; whether or not it hits needed learning targets; as well as making sure the app doesn’t pigeonhole the user into unimaginative activities,” she explained.

For the special education rubric, click here.

(Next page: Rubrics 3-4)

3. Student evaluation rubric.

According to Hoffmann, educators may still need to tailor the language of this rubric for students, but the rubric uses slightly broken-down language to ask students what they think of the mobile apps they’re using in school.

“The rubrics here focus more on the social aspects, collaboration and interface,” said Hoffmann. Students know so much about how to use these functionalities it’s great to get their feedback.”

Not only is it critical for educators to get useful feedback from students on apps-besides a simple ‘good’ or ‘bad’- it’s also important for students to know how to critically evaluate mobile apps for the future.

“The right apps can help everyone accomplish so much in the real world,” said Hoffmann. “It’s a good skill to have not only for life in general, but especially for students entering higher education.”

For the student rubric, click here.

4. Math rubric.

“I’ll let this rubric speak for itself,” laughed Shaw. “There’s a ton of math language we used in this rubric and it’s great for the multitude of math apps now available on the market.”

For the math rubric, click here.

All three professors emphasized that they would love for educators to download these rubrics into Google Docs and make suggestions on how to improve them (all rubrics include a link to Google Docs where educators can then download and improve).

For additional resources, as well as contact information on Hoffmann, Shaw, and Hameister, visit: https://sites.google.com/site/mobileapplicationevaluation/home.