You Don’t Need an App for That….

We’ve been exploring a new method of deploying apps in the board. All of the pertinent details will soon be available at (Huge kudos need to be aimed at the iOS support team at WRDSB, from whom I have stolen and plagiarized a big chunk of this process: thanks for forging a path.) Anyone who has had to manage more than a couple of iPads knows the headache they can induce. It’s a testament to the device that anyone would struggle through the ridiculous hoops you need to jump through to take a personal device, and make it a shared one. If I spend too long on the wrong side of this I start getting discouraged. I need to make sure I get out into a classroom where kids are doing incredible things with them to get rejuvenated.

All that said, I think that we are getting closer. Those in technical roles, deploying iOS at a system level, will want to read this article that details a new method of managed distribution, instead of the current redemption code methods. Sadly this isn’t available in Canada yet, but it should allow a school to purchase copies of an app, deploy them to a student’s personal device, then take them back when the student leaves the school. This should open the door to specialized apps within a given program: a class set that you re-use with your students each year.

Which is great, if you need an app for that…

I’d like to argue that a large number of the apps we purchase are unnecessary. I think the purchases fall into a couple of different categories that may seem familiar:

1. The app is a digital version of a physical thing:

If that Base Ten Blocks app you bought merely provides on-screen resources you already have in a bin at the back of your room, it’s a wasted purchase. A digital resource should allow you to do something you can’t do with a physical item.

2. The app perpetuates bad pedagogy.

If the app is a digital representation of a blackline master fill-in-the-blanks-word-search-crossword-puzzle-photocopy it shouldn’t be on the iPad. Don’t use technology to do old things: use technology to do new things in new ways.

3. The app is a carbon copy of a free website.withkids

Do I pay $2.99 for the Wolfram Alpha app, when the website is free?

4. The app is Smart Notebook a crippled version of its desktop counterpart.

There are a few apps out there capitalizing on their success on a desktop platform, with limited features that don’t truly represent what is possible on an iPad


The iPads that we are deploying as part of the North School Inquiry-Based Learning Project have a small set of apps that are subject agnostic, and empower students to be creative and make stuff (podcasts, movies, music, blog-posts). The model of deployment allows teachers to pick up the devices and use them, rather than worry about installing apps on each device individually. If a classroom dedicates time to working deeply with just a couple of these apps (iMovie, Garageband, Explain Everything, Mobile Podcaster, WordPress, Google Drive) I think they have the ingredients for an awesome program. I know how easy it is to fall into the “app-trap”. One of my sideline hopes for this project is to see if I’m right. To see how long I can hold out in a classroom without wanting to install some new cool thing. Maybe putting this down in writing will help.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

Join the conversation


  1. Jared, I’m so glad that you wrote this post! When I first bought my iPad, I paid for and installed numerous apps. I was always looking for a new app. Then I realized that there’s actually very little that I need. Here’s what my students use to create, apply, and truly show their learning:

    1) Educreations (or Explain Everything)
    2) iMovie
    3) NFB PixStop
    4) GoogleDrive
    5) Garage Band (sometimes)
    6) Puppet Pals
    7) Mobile Podcaster
    8) Twitter
    9) Evernote (for documentation)

    If I am going to install something else, it tends to be a creation app. With fewer apps installed though, there’s more room to record videos & take pictures, and in my mind, this documentation piece is so important!


    1. That’s a nice, tight list. I recognize I don’t attend to Assistive Technology needs in this post, which is really worthy of its own post. The 5th category may be “Apps that provide functionality now built into the device”. For example: a newer iPad has speech to text and text to speech built directly into the operating system, negating the need for apps like Dragon Dictation, or Speak it!

      1. Funny you mentioned that Jared, as Dragon, Speak It, and Word Q are three apps that my students used a lot (due largely to needs for assistive tech). I know there’s more amazing assistive tech apps as well, and these are ones that I would be willing to install because of how they help the students. So maybe my list of nine is slightly longer than I thought … 🙂


        1. Those are certainly still required on iPad 2 devices. Word Q is one I have not investigated too deeply. AppWriter and intoWords were two others that seemed to have similar functionality.

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  2. Thanks for your post – those are good reasons to avoid some apps. I wanted to temper numbers 3 and 4, though, by saying that sometimes an app is worth it even if the desktop version/web service is free/more complete.

    For example, Google Drive (noted in your post as a good one) doesn’t allow a lot much of what you can do from a full-fledged computer. The app provides a fast way to do a lot of the most important stuff, and that makes it worth it. For many web services, I could open Safari and access a more complete set of tools, but it’s slow. Google Drive is so helpful I would pay a premium for it if necessary.

    So, apps can be “crippled” or “unnecessary”, but that’s trumped by their ease of use and speed.

    1. Excellent point. I was struggling today with the inability to edit a slideshow using the Google Drive app, and yet I forgive it its trespasses because it does allow for other helpful functionality.

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