Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Process for Reviewing Educational iPad Apps

Recently I kind of fumbled my way into reviewing educational iPad apps made by children's authors and indie developers, as I'm sure many of you have noticed the reviews I've posted on this blog. Whereas I'd never set out to do reviews for apps, I'm pretty happy now that I am. It's developed into kind of a hobby, if writing reviews could be considered a hobby. In any case, I thought it might be wise to share the process I go through when reviewing apps.

There are several steps to the process which I will list here, then discuss in more detail.

1. Acquire the app.
2. Test the app.
3. Read the About or Information section of the app.
4. Look for video reviews or demonstrations on YouTube.
5. Find the app on iTunes or Google Play.
6. Brainstorming ways to use the app in an educational setting.
7. Write the review.

Now, the details.

1. Acquire the app. 
Thus far storybook creators and children's authors have been pretty eager to share their apps with me and let me review them. So this first step is relatively easy. The developer or author provides me with a link to access the app on my iPad. Sometimes links to the developer or author's website are included, too. That really helps save time in steps 3, 4 and 5.

2. Test the app. 
This is by far my favorite part of the review process. I test the app and check out all of its features, including narration, music, special effects, and any interactive games. I might take a few screenshots of things I find interesting to include in my review.

This is also usually the point when my children ask me what I'm doing and whether they can play with the app. Most of the time I let them try the app themselves and ask for feedback. Because, if these apps are made for kids, I'd like to see how kids interact with them.

3. Read the About or Information section of the app.
After I (and my kids) finish playing with the app, I read the About or Information section of the app itself -- different apps have different labels -- to see if there are any features I might have missed in my initial test.

At this point, I also search for the author's website and the app developer's website to find out more information and save the links for my app review.

Then I go back to the app and give it a second run, paying attention to things I might have missed the first time.

4.  Look for video reviews on YouTube.
In this part of the app review process, I head over to YouTube and do a quick search on the app to see what other reviews have been done. As far as I can recall, all the apps I've reviewed so far have an official trailer of some kind along with reviews done by others. I save the official trailers to include in my blog posts.

5. Find the app on iTunes.
Next I head over to iTunes to find the app and read its summary and reviews. The reviews don't weigh into my own opinion of the app but it is interesting to read what others have written. I note the price for the app and bookmark the page to link it in my review.

Side note: I just realized yesterday that I hadn't been searching for Android versions of the apps, so that's something I will have to be mindful of in future reviews.

6. Brainstorming ways to use the app in an educational setting. 
This is probably the most challenging and time-consuming part of writing a review. I think about why a parent, teacher or librarian would want to pay for this app and how they could use it.

Most app developers make their own suggestions on age appropriateness. For example, some developers will list an app as being for pre-schoolers or for ages 4 - 9. I try to consider others who might benefit from the app, like English Language Learners or struggling readers.

I also look for ways teachers and librarians can incorporate the app into their curriculum and list my ideas in the review. My ideas are by no means comprehensive but are meant to give educators a starting point to build upon. I don't think an app should just be used as a way to keep a child or student occupied while the parent or educator does something else. In other words, there has to be some educational component that benefits the child besides the app itself.

7. Write the review.
This is where I take all the information gathered in previous steps -- the pictures, links, videos, my suggestions, etc. -- and summarize it in a review. I don't let the developer or author preview what I've written at any point. They don't see it until it's published, along with everyone else.

The entire process from acquiring the app to publishing the review can take between three hours to two weeks, depending on life. I really appreciate how patient developers and authors have been in waiting for the reviews to be posted.

DISCLOSURE: While I don't take any sort of payment in doing the reviews, I have received codes for free apps to test. I'm sure that could be considered as a form of payment, however the time spent in testing and researching information about the app probably lowers the value of payment to well below minimum wage.

And that's OK. After all, this is a hobby.

If you are an indie developer and/or children's author and would like to have an app reviewed, please see the Email Me section under my bio. 

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