Secondary students need more educational apps

Though there are some useful iPod/iPad apps for 6-12 classrooms, the selection is rather limited. Capitalism is hard at work in Apple’s App Store, and the vast majority of apps are geared toward the folks who are willing and able to cough up the cash for cool apps: parents with children under age 7, college students who need extra tutorials, and Generation (insert consonant here) adults who love touchscreen games that fill gaps of boredom.

What’s missing are educational apps for middle and high school age kids whose collective buying power also is considerable. Teens collectively spent $112.5 billion in 2003, according to a teen marketing profile. According to this marketing profile, teens also want control over their media experiences, advise their parents on small household purchases, and have access to instant messaging and cell phones. In today’s media market, that means access to a social network of thousands upon thousands with the rapid growth of Twitter and Facebook. In late 2009, a survey revealed that 88 percent of teens use social networks every day, with half spending an hour or more at it per day.

Companies aren’t seeing the immediate benefits of providing classroom-based apps for secondary students because they probably don’t believe teens will purchase the apps themselves or cajole their parents into purchasing them. For this they are tremendously short-sighted. Teens would much rather interact socially with books and articles on an iPod Touch or iPad rather than crack open a textbook that their school spent $150 for and won’t be updating years, maybe decades. Textbook companies could put their books online and include social networking apps, videos, and MP3s. Add notetaking and highlighting capabilities, an area for teachers to upload PowerPoints and notes, and the ability to customize their practice vocabulary, and they have a powerful sell. What teen wouldn’t urge their parents/school to spend $500 on a 1.5-pound device that holds everything they need for schoolwork as opposed to lugging around 20 pounds worth of tomes that they can’t write in and are about as exciting as watching mold grow on bread.

Perhaps what’s daunting for schools in this economy is to spend thousands for a product that is untested. But districts are seeing results — Escondido school district in California credits iPods for improved test scores, and groups that used iPods outperformed control groups without them. According to Apple’s site, reading fluency improved six times the normal rate within a six-week period for a group of English language learners at a school in that Escondido district. This year, Lynchburg City Schools are purchasing 800 iPod Touches with money from a federal Enhancing Education Through Technology grant in hopes of improving math and reading scores.

While Apple does have some information on its site regarding a few success stories with the devices, it needs to add more information regarding standardized test results. Rather than districts and teachers scrambling to find grant money, Apple could offer iPod Touches to some classrooms or small schools in exchange for test studies. Apple could even recruit universities to help facilitate them. Regarding apps themselves, Apple should provide schools with lists of apps for the elementary and secondary classrooms, including lists with free apps, apps under $2, and more costly ones. They should also provide these lists in their App Store. Apple has reps that cover districts, but information regarding the costs of implementing a classroom cart of these devices including lists of apps and textbooks, should be made more readily available to parents, teen consumers, and teachers.

Marketing to school districts is where textbook companies excel, and excel to the tinny tune of $5.2 billion in 2009 for K-12 textbooks. Textbook sales, however, were down about 14 percent in 2009. Overall, book sales are down a few percentage points, but ebook sales increased more than 176 percent in 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers. So publishers are still squeezing dollars out of starving districts. How? Districts, schools, and teachers get to know their reps who send them free samples and let them know what “wonderful” textbooks/tomes/workbooks are available to them.

Tapping into this billion-dollar market would be a wonderful revenue stream not only for Apple, but also for companies stepping up to provide product-savvy teens with the tools they need to succeed in a globalized world where knowing how to communicate masterfully, deeply comprehend texts, and create new technology are essential.

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