22 favorite mobile apps: Appy Hour on the Future Trends Forum


What are the best apps for education? What can their selection tell us about the evolution of technology?

In June of 2018, the Future Trends Forum ran an experiment. We didn’t host a guest, as we usually do. Instead, we hosted an “Appy Hour,” a session where we invited participants to simply share their favorite mobile app for learning. (The idea came up during the June 7th Forum discussion. Kudos to the community for thinking of it!)

The experiment turned out to be… a wild success. People jumped onto video to share app after app. Discussion flowed freely.

This wasn’t done programmatically. I didn’t pick or pre-load ready-to-go speakers. Several days before the event I fired off a mass email, as is customary for each Forum. When I started the session, I introduced the topic then simply opened the floor to volunteers. This was very ad hoc and organic.

Here’s the app list in alphabetical order. I’ve added the person or people who volunteered it as best I could:

Algebra By Hand – an algebra learning and practice app (thanks to Rod Murray) . Rod also did a podcast interview with the app’s creator.

Calm – a tool for helping users meditate (thanks to Patrice and Cari Jiminez).

Chalk (iTunes) – an augmented reality app which lets users draw on the real world within a videoconference. It could be used in many situations (thanks to Renee Franzwa).

Desmos – a free math app that replaces graphing calculators (thanks to Maria Anderson).

Fabulous – helps users build good habits and fix up bad ones (thanks to Rachael Larson).

Feedly– a good RSS reader that helps us manage incoming information (thanks to Maria Anderson). I have blogged about Feedly previously.

Flipgrid – a kind of video-based discussion tool (thanks to Mary Talbut and Rita-Marie Conrad).

Forest – encourages you to not spend so much time on the phone (thanks to Maria Anderson).

Goose Chase – a scavenger-hunt app (thanks to Mary Talbut).

Inoreader – another good RSS reader (Bryan).

iScanner – a very good scanner (thanks to Maria Anderson).

Libby – an e-reader app for reading ebooks, hosted by OverDrive (thanks to Babette Kraft).

Lingro to Go – a language-learning app with a key focus: how to use language in the right moment (thanks to Cari Jiminez).

Marco Polo (iTunes, Google Play) – an asynchronous video tool (thanks to Barbara Mitchell).

MyWGU (Google Play, iTunes) – an app for Western Governors University students, aimed at WGU’s portal (thanks to Rachael Larson, who helped develop it).

Nearpod – for classroom presentation and interactive exercises (thanks to Mary Talbut).

Newsmeister – a news quiz tool (thanks to Tim Holmgren, who helped develop it).

Scuttytree – an AI/chat tool that helps students form study groups (thanks to Rod Murray).

Shared grocery lists – an app category very useful for multi-person households (thanks to Maria Anderson).

Smart Kapp – a note-taking app that lets you send content to multiple devices (thanks to Mike Welker).

Stitcher – a leading podcast aggregator (Bryan). We learned that Rod Murray’s podcast is now on Stitcher.

Tripit – a travel planner that creates itineraries (thanks to Maria Anderson).

Vamos a aprender náhuatl (iTunes, Google Play) – a Nahuatl language learning app (thanks to Babette Kraft).

Once we covered the majority of those apps, Rita-Marie then asked us to get meta, wondering how we can best keep up with the deluge of apps? In response, Cari Jimenez suggested three apps for keeping up with apps and information: Product Hunt, Flipboard, and EdSearch. Maria mentioned her vacation habit of downloading a raft of apps all at once, then sifting through them in free time.

I took a step back and wondered about themes which emerged across this range of apps and through our discussion. They included:

  • the wide range of app types. We shared apps for education (on several levels), personal productivity, and mental-health aids.
  • access. Many people were interested in low-cost or free apps.
  • practical pedagogy. Some saw their apps as supplementing a preexisting curriculum (e.g., Desmos, Algebra by Hand, Lingro to Go). Others were standalone learning tools (Vamos a aprender náhuatl).
  • ease of use counted for a lot. We paid attention to improved interfaces and especially to good design.
  • gamification. Many apps used game features, such as points and competition.

What do you think of our list? And what do you make of our experiment?

My thanks to Maria Andersen and Rita-Marie Conrad for offering the Appy Hour idea.

[Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted on Bryan Alexander’s blog on July 5, 2018.]

Check out this webinar
The Future Trends Forum is an open video conversation about the future of higher ed. Each week, a different guest—an inspiring expert, visionary, practitioner, or researcher—talks about their area of interest. Past guests include Audrey Watters, Martin Dougiamas, Anya Kamenetz, George Siemens, Casey Green, and Will Richardson. Check out past recordings here.

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