Mobilizing Apps

Last month we discussed mobile technology and mobile learning in the classroom and found out that mobile devices are increasingly an integral part of the classroom. Smartphones and tablets are in use from kindergarten to college campuses. What’s important about integrating these devices into the classroom includes not only the infrastructure to support wireless access, but also the support and information available to educators to help them implement the best resources in their classrooms.

The Tennessee Board of Regents’ (TBR) eLearning Initiative’s Education & Workforce Mobile Apps Resource Bank is an innovative, and incredibly useful, way to help promote mobile learning and mobile technology in education from pre-K through Ph.D. levels — and even for professional development.

“If you’re talking about mobilization — we, the Tennessee Board of Regents System of Higher Ed, have taken a proactive stand regarding mobile phones and tablets,” explains Dr. Robbie K. Melton, associate vice chancellor of Mobilization for TBR, who has coined herself as an “Appologist” (a person that researches the impact of mobile apps). “We started investigating all of this three years ago when it hit us that all of our college students had cell phones. And not only did they have cell phones, they had the most up-to-date cell phones, and some of them were even as powerful as the computers we have in the classroom. With that, we noticed that these students were eating, sleeping, working, dating with these phones. They were doing everything with these smartphones except education.”

They started approaching publishers and looking at designing content to go on the smartphones and tablets that the students were using. “You didn’t have anybody leading the way and all your ‘apps’ were for entertainment, communication or basically Angry Birds,” Melton adds.

“We’d start taking apps, and I’ll use Angry Birds as a teachable moment, and as educators we were able to sit down and say, ‘Angry Birds highlights certain subjects, like physics, math, eye-hand coordination, etc.’ and we started tagging,” she explains. “Well, we started tagging apps to the point we have 50,000-plus apps tagged from pre-K all the way to Ph.D. and we aligned these apps with 95 subject areas, and with one’s mobile device of choice (Apple, Androids, Google, eReaders, etc.). If you are going to teach, say second grade and you’re going to use an iPad, and the subject is reading, you just punch in those variables and a bank of apps will come up to match those key terms.”

Melton adds that this collection of tagged apps is specifically for educators and workforce development. “We are nonprofit; we’re a public institution, so we are not trying sell or promote. We just want teachers, students, administrators, business people and parents to be able to go, and whatever device they have … find apps aligned for educational and workforce subjects and needs.”

After tagging so many apps and creating the searchable database, it was time to create quality standards for using the apps; they also were in need of a way to evaluate them. “We partnered with MERLOT (a community of educators with a mission to share learning resources and to use peer faculty reviewers in various disciplines across the world) to evaluate apps and learning objects in terms of their content, interactivity, ADA (if these apps are acceptable for those with disabilities), IT, etc. Therefore, we have a built-in system where we collect apps from all over the world and then we shoot those apps that can be applied to various disciplines to MERLOT for evaluation for teaching, learning and workforce development, as well as the pedagogy of teaching with apps,” Melton says. Check out the “How to Teach with Mobile Apps for Better Learning Guide.”

In addition, Melton notes that currently there is not a national educational and workforce classification/tagging system for apps like books and usually those developing apps are outside of education, they rely on students, faculty and staff for input on what should be added. “We have to go from word of mouth,” she explains, “to say, ‘What is your best app?’ and someone will say, ‘Frog Dissection App.’ Then we hunt down that app, and then ask, ‘How are you using this app for teaching or learning or for training?’ We then follow up in sharing that app with faculty for their feedback. Upon favorable review, we have a system-wide deployment plan in place to make that app available to our faculty at no cost to them.”

As of this writing, TBR is the only system of higher education with a system-wide strategic educational, business and operational plan for addressing the mobile devices for the enhancement of recruiting, marketing, teaching, learning, workforce development, career training and professional development, as well as for increasing retention and graduation rates. 

To check out the TBR Mobile Apps Resource Bank and find out more about mobilizing technology in the classroom, visit