App creation gets as easy or complex as you like – fill out our survey for a free two-week test drive
When the new computing curriculum hits schools in England in September 2014 teachers will be expected to teach programming and algorithms to children from foundation age upwards.
That’s a very big ask, but fortunately a new generation of easy-to-use app-creation software is emerging. And one online front-runner, AppFurnace, is being marketed to schools complete with a curriculum support and training package from Kudlian Software.
AppFurnace has already turned heads in UK schools with its ability to give learners and teachers instant results and feedback – they can import newly designed apps directly to Android or Apple iOS devices without the need to go via an app store (Windows phones should be included in 2014). This racks up the enthusiasm and engagement, and generates fresh choruses of, “See what I did in school today!”
It does for the code-shy approximately what desktop publishing programs did for those without access to print publishing capability back in the 1980s – opens up new areas of expertise to a wide swathe of people by providing easy-to-use digital tools.
Students just need to work out a rough structure to their app before getting started. They sign in to AppFurnace via a browser and control the introduction of assets like text, image and video from the left of the screen into a workspace designed as a ‘mobile’ screen in the centre. From the right hand side they select the tools to edit and modify those assets.
For example they could include a title, an image and some text and then drop in a “next” button that, when clicked on, will take a user to the next screen. The app can be as simple or sophisticated as they desire, and once everything is in place they can ‘run’ it online to preview the functionality. If they are happy with progress, all they have to do to finish is produce a QR code. Students simply scan this code with the AppFurnace Play app on their devices for their app to be automatically installed on their devices via the internet..
Immediate results and feedback the key for classroom success
It’s this immediacy which turns the heads of teachers and students. Computing teacher Iain Lacey took out a trial AppFurnace subscription over the summer term to use with his students at Hayesfield Girls School, Bath (he has since moved to Archway School, Stroud). He was an early adopter even before curriculum support had been created by Kudlian.
“We were trying to engage students with the use of mobile apps,” says Iain Lacey. “A lot of schools do this but they might use PowerPoint or mock-ups of mobile apps. What I wanted was something direct and immediate. Plus, when you are talking about younger students, key stage 3 students, you don't want to get bogged down with the coding initially. You want to get them excited about the product and the technology.
He was working with a group of lower-ability girls to create a scheme of work for English. The girls were given roles of esafety consultants and their task to design apps to promote esafety to their peers. “Then they took their designs and worked on them in AppFurnace,” he explained. “And one of the biggest joys was that it was almost instantaneous feedback. Basically, anyone with a smartphone, be it Android or an iPhone or tablet, could actually see their app working on the device. I think that was the biggest draw really.”
Colleagues picked up the baton and continued the work in other areas and subjects which included adding maps to the apps so they would only work in certain locations. Girls were highly motivated and took skills they learned in Computing to other subjects - they also took apps home to show their families.
The key strength, says Iain Lacey, is as a compelling introduction and starting point for app production, particularly at key stage 3, and one which works with teachers who are not ‘technical’. Another plus was that the lower-ability girls produced work way above the level expected of them: “The fun bit about this is that kids can see their apps on their own this on their phones - and that's what really gets them.”
Adviser feedback convincing – for children with severe learing difficulties too
That level of engagement was also seen by ICT and inclusion adviser Carol Allen, working with a group of youngsters from a number of schools. “‘I can make one myself!’ was among the excited cries as students realised that the hitherto mystical world of app creation had been unlocked,” she said.
“AppFurnace allowed us all to create and share apps quickly and easily. Sharing is by QR code or URL, and only via the formal process of submitting to Apple if you really feel the need to. As the app downloads to your device, it can then be used offline so it’s perfect for anywhere, anytime learning – and there’s no need for Internet access in order to use it. When you next log in any updates are automatically downloaded, so information-giving apps can constantly be refreshed.
“I had the best session of the year so far,” she said. “In one and half hours these students had made an app which they then downloaded to the devices of their choice. It was a genius session where students supported each other and staff played the role of facilitators. The students were keen to go home that night and download the app they had made on to their parents’ devices.
“The excitement and engagement was immense. They were so confident and proud that they could make an app. This would be such an achievement for all students but especially for this group.
“One student, with autism, who did not want to engage during the session, or appear to be listening, brought his app over and talked me through every page of it with an exciting commentary – this was communication! You have to ask yourself, ‘If kids with severe learning difficulties can do that,what about the rest?”
Education AppFurnace service delivered to schools courtesy of Kudlian
is now available, the outcome of a partnership between Kudlian Software and Calvium, the company which created the original service. The education version offers a new, more accessible interface and useful resources to support the new curriculum.
James Betts, managing director of Kudlian said: “The launch of AppFurnace Education is coming at a significant time, with changes to the way computer science is taught. Moving away from ICT as a discipline in its own right and focusing on the technical computing skills and applications, will undoubtedly cause anxiety for some teachers who feel they don’t have the necessary experience to teach the new Computing curriculum.
“AppFurnace is an effective and intuitive tool that enables pupils to gain a real insight into the skills involved in creating smartphone and tablet apps. The on-screen, step-by-step instructions will support teachers to easily integrate app creation into lessons; either as part of specific computing-focused lessons or as a cross-curricular tool to enhance any subject area.
While Kudlian’s education version of AppFurnace is ready for schools to use, the company is looking for feedback from teachers to help fine-tune the service closely to their teaching needs and the support they need to teach the new Computing curriculum. So it has launched a quick teacher survey. By participating in the survey, teachers will automatically qualify for a two-week extended free trial of AppFurnace, which they can redeem at a time convenient for them and their students. The purpose of the survey is purely for feedback and Kudlian assures that participants’ details will not be used for marketing purposes.
You can take part by clicking here.
15 User (primary only) £99/year, £279/three years
Primary site licence £199/year, £499/three years
30 User (secondary only) £199/year, £499/three years
Secondary site licence £699/year, £1,499/three years
Kudlian Software will be demonstrting AppFurnace Education on their stand at BETT 2014 – E118
This article was produced in partnership with Kudlian Software