13 Things Every App Developer Should Know Before Creating Apps For Schools
by Rob Keith & Kathryn Makatche
We have reviewed hundreds of iPad apps. We bypass many apps that we would love to use simply because they miss a few key features that are essential for educators and schools. We have been amassing a list for developers creating apps for schools. This is coming straight from the mouths of teachers that manage 150 iPads for our elementary school students.
- Talk to teachers. Although it may seem simple to create a basic math or language app for elementary students, teaching children is complex. Teachers draw from years of experience to develop multiple strategies for reaching students based on individual needs. The more your educational app is informed by real teaching, the more likely it will be embraced by a large audience and become a hit.
- Game theory matters. This probably goes without saying, because as a game designer, this is your area of expertise. Still, the best apps that we use were planned well. Holistic design matters. Reward scheduling matters. Immediate user understanding matters. Complex systems delivered simply matters.
- Incentives and Levels. Always add incentives. Give the students something to win. A new outfit for a character or an animal for an in-app zoo is often the impetus for increased engagement and repeat gameplay. Multiple levels, including bonus games, are fantastic.
- Passive or Interactive? Apps that get the students active immediately are more likely to be successful. If the student is not participating and simply watching videos or reading, you probably need to go back to the drawing board.
- Make the interactions matter. Some interactions are a distraction. Ebooks are especially problematic. If interactions are pulling students away from the content of the book, chances are you need to rethink the goal of an app.
- Engaging activities are more important than fancy graphics. Great graphics are wonderful. However, some apps with rudimentary graphics win because they are more interesting. Children are surprisingly forgiving about graphics. Even old, well designed Atari games hold interest.
- Make the settings flexible. Teachers love the ability to choose skill levels based on student needs. Even if your app has a built in pre-test, make the settings customizable. The more settings the better! This will increase the value of your product.
- Add a reset button, plenty of logins and the ability to delete & customize players. Even schools with large numbers of iPads love having plenty of logins for apps and the ability to delete players. This doesn’t mean that you will sell fewer copies of your apps. This saves administrators time so they don’t have to pull apps from managed distribution and re-deploy apps simply to eliminate old logins. A simple reset button is also incredibly useful. Be careful to bury this in settings to avoid user error.
- Student safety. Be careful when creating apps that allow external interactions. Schools are very serious about safety and, in most cases, want the environment to be as closed as possible.
- Offer app discounts in the Apple VPP (Volume Purchase Plan) store. Discount your app when 10 or more copies are purchased via volume purchasing by schools. When apps are discounted, more schools will buy from you. We find that apps recommended by teachers at school are often purchased by parents for home iPads as well. Even at half price, you’d hate to not sell 2500 copies of your app because you didn’t offer a discount.
- In-app purchases are a deal breaker. Most schools use managed distribution, meaning we can’t make in-app purchases. You can have in-app purchases, but please make the full version available in the Apple VPP store for education. If your free app is missing key features like export or enough levels to make game play enjoyable, schools will bypass you altogether if the full version is not available via VPP.
- Apple updates the iOS at least once a year. Apple breaks everything. Plan to make time to tweak your app for updates. Get your updates finished as quickly as you can. Apple can be sluggish processing updates in the app store. Hopefully, this will improve in the future. It would be a shame to get harsh reviews because you aren’t prepared for the latest iOS.
- Create a website for your app. Ask for user feedback. Give users the ability to reach you. Getting negative reviews in the app store because something is broken is unfair if you have a great app with a glitch. However, if users can have direct contact with you, some will not use App store reviews as a forum for communication.
Looking for examples? Here are some apps worth checking out: Mystery Math Museum & Town, Marble Math & Marble Math Jr.