The Top 50 Educational Apps Are Mostly All Stuck In The Stone Age

Dec 13, 2015 by

Jordan Shapiro –

We rarely talk about the touchscreen revolution. Perhaps that’s because it happened so slowly. People had science-fiction dreams of tablet computing for decades. Fictional devices showed up in futuristic movies, novels, and television shows long before Apple’s Newton or the PalmPilot. Then, finally, after years of Google and Apple carefully planning miniscule user-interface iterations that slowly trained us all to swipe and pinch, we accepted the future.

We often praise the iPhone and iPad for shifting the way we think about computing. But Apple really just pushed us over the cliff; we were already walking toward touch-based input. Cupertino just made it more palatable with concept of the “App.”

As it turns out, the touchscreen and the app seem to share a symbiotic relationship. Consider that most of us still rarely touch the screens of our workstations or laptops. Even the younger generation avoids it—both of my children (8- and 10-years-old) have touchscreen laptops, but they still prefer a mouse even over the touchpad. Smartphones and tablets, however, are another matter entirely.

                                           (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

When it comes to tablet-shaped devices the touch-interface is essential. And it seems to depend upon a menu of apps. My children and I have tried just about every type of tablet hardware available over the past few years: Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Fuhu’s Nabi, Samsung’s Galaxy. I’m currently loving the form factor of Lenovo’s Yoga Tablet—that little kickstand is so much more useful than I would have imagined. Also, hardly an hour passes that I don’t engage with my Google Nexus 6 Phablet. On each of these devices, my kids have played games—puzzlers, endless runners, side-scrollers. While I use mostly news aggregators, social media apps, and the so-called “productivity apps”—all of which really just enable my habit of procrastination.

Often, I write about apps. I evaluate educational or learning apps. It seems like ever since the beginning of this touchscreen revolution, we’ve all wondered what it would mean for education. There’s almost a sense that the tablet’s integration into children’s learning experiences is inevitable. But what is it about this technology that makes us so certain of its educational potential? Sure, some writers have pointed to a sense of intimacy between student and tablet, seeing it as something akin to reader and book. But I don’t buy that story. I suspect the very notion that tablets can help us learn has more to do with habit than we’d like to admit. Moderns, in any era, tend to be far less innovative and far more tethered to the past than they’d like to believe.

Digital tablets let educators and developers pat themselves on the back for embracing “new innovative technologies” without actually having to turn toward anything too unfamiliar. We may not talk about it much in this era of ed-reform rhetoric that sees the iPad or the Surface as a 21st Century learning device that can help us move away from the so-called factory-model of education, but the tablet form-factor has already been one of education’s longest-standing traditions. It’s hardly new at all. Remember that the 18th Century’s school house writing slates remained the primary classroom technology until the 1930s. And even students in 1900 BCE were already practicing writing on tablets. Of course theirs weren’t digital; they wrote cuneiform on clay slates (known to today’s archeologists as “lentils” or “buns”).

Source: The Top 50 Educational Apps Are Mostly All Stuck In The Stone Age – Forbes

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