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Posted by Tom, October 3, 2012

Better Apps

Dan Donahoo, a writer for Wired magazine’s Geekdad column and a great advocate for children’s digital media, has launched an interesting new website, Better Apps. The site offers app developers a self-assessment tool to evaluate their apps for educational content in four areas, and gives parents information about which apps have met certain educational criteria.

This strikes me as being a very useful sort of thing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there’s very little thorough research, quantitative analysis, or benchmarked assessment taking place in the kids app sector. There’s lots of interesting stuff coming out of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York, which we’ve written about on this blog before (though mostly these are relatively small scale studies), and occasionally pieces of research with overlapping interests emerge from other sectors, but broadly speaking it has been a fairly neglected area of study.

Secondly, I suspect/ hope that with more assessment of this sort taking place, the greater the likelihood that a codified set of criteria for assessing apps will emerge. As a medium, apps are still relatively new, and one of the exciting (and challenging) things about that is the reality that the means by which we should judge their merit are not readily agreed upon (and indeed, I still find myself explaining what an app is, or how our apps differ from ebooks at least once a week). In a blogpost from August, I asked parents what the most important thing about an app was for them. Narrative? Interactivity? Aesthetics? These, I suppose, are the sort of criteria I had in mind, and in the same way that one might expect to find criticism of character, plotting and language in a book review, I think a broadly standardised set of parameters need to be reached for apps before the form can fully mature.

And thirdly, I think this could be a great tool for developers looking for feedback and for parents and teachers looking for great educational content. Dan kindly ran our Bizzy Bear Builds a House app through the assessment tool while the site was in beta mode and it is now ranked number one in the literacy/ language category for Early Years (0-7) users. We’re looking forward to applying the tool to our other apps and seeing how they fare, particularly given the different categories that they straddle: some, like Rounds: Franklin Frog, have a specifically educational purpose (and the picture at the top of this post is of its placement as an Editor’s Choice App in the Education category of the App Store in the US), whereas an app like Pip and Posy: Fun and Games is more game-based (while still promoting creativity and emotional development through the painting and make-a-face activities).

What do you look for in an educational app? And how do you decide which ones to buy? We’d really love to hear from you if you’re a parent or teacher making these decisions.