Agony Aunt: Making your own edu-app and 1:1 support

Nicole Ponsford

Nicole Ponsford is founder of TechnoTeachers and co-authored TechnoTeaching (published by Harvard). She is a mum of three (including twins) and works as a freelance educational coach and writer in her 'spare' time. She is currently an achievement coach and Digital Education Specialist for educational charity Achievement for All. Previously an award-winning secondary school teacher and AST (new technologies) who worked in four secondary schools, in September 2017 Nicole was awarded the title of Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE).

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Innovate My School agony aunt and TechnoTeaching co-author Nicole Ponsford takes a look at the challenges facing teachers today.

“I am a teacher with an idea for an educational game, how do I go about turning my idea into a reality?” Jack Lyke

Jack, I have presumed this is an app rather than a board game, right? Therefore the advice below is based on this.

1. Initial Questions: What is your goal? What do you want to do? I would also suggest that first you do some market research before you blow your precious time into this. Here is a great blog to get you started. Also check out iPad Educators - lots of exciting articles and resources. Consider next: is there anything else out there similar to your idea? How much (if any) do you want to charge for it? Which platform do you want it on? Is it for home or school use? What outcomes does it have? How long can you commit to this?

Once you have been through this list, then consider your audience. Speak to them. What do they want? What do they think of your idea? How could you improve it?

Alan Peat, international author and educational consultant (including a range of top apps), suggests that your educational app should have the following aims: “…Useful content / helps teachers / engaging for pupils”. He should know; he has released 19 apps (to date) and 59 are in the pipeline. Make these three elements the focus of your audience surveys and look to see if you are plugging a gap in the market, or are already too late.

2. Sketch it out. Once you have done this research, and know you have a winner, you can then move into the planning stage. What do you want it to look like? How can the user navigate your app? I am unsure of your skills, so are you able to create an app? Do you need to learn how to do this? Or will you ask a web developer to do this for you?

3. More research. What design inspiration can you find for your app? Here is a list of the 100 best apps. Which aspects do you most admire? What are the technical requirements for your app? How will you market it and where? There are millions of apps available now and educational apps are rising daily. You will have to be very sure of your USP (unique selling point) and how you will both gain and support users.

4. Getting technical. It takes, on average 18 weeks to create an app - as this handy infographic shows you. This is to make the core front end and back end service (although this depends on how is doing this part for you). This is for an Apple or Android device. How do you know that your app will work? How can you be sure of the technical aspects and support it will need? Speak to an expert and ensure you also have the legalities nailed.

5. Wireframe and Storyboarding. Wireframing is when you create a digital prototype. My favourites are HotGloo and Balsamiq. These will help you create quick mockups to ensure your app will work in the real world. When doing this, you need to also create a ‘storyboard’ that illustrates the journey the user will go on. This will show you the different screens they will see and allow you to ‘play’ with your app whilst still in the design process.

6. Web Developer. There are some apps out there that help you make apps. Really. Try AppMakr on for size, or Mobincube. You will - if you cannot do this - need a web developer to make this a reality. Your storyboards and wireframes will help them to envisage your design further. You might also plan in a sketch of your servers, APIs (application program interface = a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications) and data diagrams. If you don’t know of a web developer (and Google is not being your friend) there are a host of conferences across the year that you may wish to attend.

7. Test. Test. Test. Once you have it - TEST it. Then test it again! Test it with friends and family, then a focus group. Take on board all of the comments and then test it again. Solidify is a great site to test your app - different to a wireframe.

8. To market. Now it is time to release your app. This blog by ChrisWrites is full of lots of tips. Consider if you want it for iTunes, Android or Google. Or all of them. They all have different processes. The key is to spend time getting this part right, as it can be the element that makes or breaks you.

I will leave you with some wise words from Alan Peat. “The big point to consider is that it is relatively easy to produce an app, but much harder to sell it. You need to build an audience first and there has to be a 'need'. With our word game apps, we combined Maths and Literacy to produce something a little different. It's a case of constantly looking for gaps in the market to build a brand. Once people know that an app is engaging and useful, they begin to look out for the next one.

Therefore research how others released their apps, ask questions about how to market your app and spend time considering how you are going to sell it before you do.

Here’s to an ‘appy future, Jack!

2. How do you get reluctant staff to engage with 1:1 support they're offered?
Advanced Skills Teacher, Bristol.

Never easy. My gut instinct is to say ‘Let them have ownership’ of the process. They should be aware why this has been put in place - and if it contributes to their Performance Management or the School Development Plan.

My next query: Why are they reluctant?

Time - Try to make this on their terms at a time that suits them too. Could this be in place of an existing meeting? Can they get cover for this? Is it at a regular time that they can plan for?

The focus - What are you asking them to do? You may see it as support, but they may see it as an affront. Do they feel criticised? Why are they defensive? How would you feel? Consider the content and the goal of these sessions and ensure they have voice too.

Coaching versus Mentoring - A performance coach does not need to be an expert in an area. This means that the participant (coachee) may have more expertise in a subject than the coach. The real difference between these two roles is that the coach should be listening rather than talking - and offering time for real reflection for the coachee.

It is also important for staff to know the timeline of this ‘support’, how regular it will be and what impact will it have on them/their students? Build in time for reflection, observing others and even looking out off-site training. Ask them what support they would prefer - and in what guise. Include this, but also make sure you are meeting your objectives too. Illustrating that you are both compromising can make the process more ‘human’ for all concerned (this is after all a professional job, is it not?).

Also think of the little things. Being supportive, positive and kind can go along way. Providing a cuppa and something sweet when they come. Ensuring things finish on time. Always being complimentary over progress and sharing best practice across the school.

Lastly, make sure you both plan the sessions and also have time to reflect yourself on the session. Allow yourself 10 minutes or so after a session to consider how well the meeting went, what would you change, what have you learnt and what you want to occur next time. This breathing/headspace is important to you too.

I hope this helps. Essentially work out why it is bothering them and put your solution-focused hat on. Good luck!

Get in touch with editor James Cain at [email protected] if you have questions for Nicole.

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