Education apps must be in sync with pupils’ needs

15th December 2017 at 00:00
The journey of developing the SATPE app has been arduous but hugely rewarding, says one of its designers

In June 2015, I helped design the initial concept for an educational app. The journey since then has been long and arduous – but hugely rewarding.

The aim of The Scottish Association of Teachers of Physical Education (SATPE) was to create an assessment procedure in broad general education PE that was pupil-centred and added to the learning process.

The SATPE app has been launched in 121 secondary schools across Scotland and has been well-received by practitioners and pupils alike.

The initial design began with a PowerPoint and Excel mock-up, in the naive expectation that the prototype would launch in November 2015. Right from the start, the challenges were constant: a multitude of formatting issues between platforms, uploading and syncing problems with different mobile devices, hosting constraints, bug fixes and the need to design a website to compensate for any pupil without smartphone or app access.

We are currently running version 14 of the app – it’s available from Apple’s App Store, the Windows Store and Google Play. Getting there required more than 65 adaptations and adjustments from our initial concept – and changes will continue to be needed to make the product the best that it can be.

I would urge any budding app designers to think about cost before committing to a project. Financial constraints can ruin any great concept and you must be able to balance work demands effectively.

Our initial costings came in at £20,000-£25,000, but SATPE was able to source an app developer, Eduporting, which offered a reduced rate because of its strong belief in the potential benefit of our concept. Our developer is also a full-time principal teacher of computing and maths. His curricular and technological knowledge was invaluable, as we attempted to match our concept to a design that would work across Android, iOS and Windows platforms.

Impact on learning

When designing an educational app, I would always ask whether the impact on learning matches the time, commitment and investment required to get the concept off the ground. We felt that our product was unique and would have huge impact on the way young people learned. It can, for example, take the form of a homework task where pupils collect evidence in class and then evaluate and sync their work at home, without the need for booklets or folders.

Our next development will focus on the senior-phase curriculum – the prototype is already in production. But if you want to create your own app, ask yourself, “Am I making a significant difference with this intervention?” If the answer is yes, go for it – but always tread with caution.

John Millar is vice-president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of Physical Education

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