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App Autonomy

By October 31, 2016No Comments

As you may have noticed via my social media I recently did the opening keynote on the teacher day and the same on the leadership day at the JESS Digital Innovation Summit in Dubai. Whilst there I met one of their teachers, Tom Edge who presented and shared a great idea in one of the workshops around App Autonomy. We spoke afterwards and I asked him if he’d like to share his idea on the site, so here it is. My thanks to Tom for taking the time to write it and share. You can find Tom on Twitter as @classedgetech and he will be joining me on the next AppShareLive on 12 November ’16.

Choice. Choice is probably one of the most important words in the English vocabulary. It varies in importance, outcome, frequency, pattern and, more importantly, the freedom to do so. We learn from choices, we observe the impact they have and we understand that the more choices we make, the better we get at making them.

At times, the use of technology in the classroom can be extremely overwhelming. The amount of apps available to enhance and support learning are continuously growing; some offering similar outcomes and others offering alternative motivational, enjoyment and engaging factors. Therefore, it is important, not imperative, that teachers are familiar with these apps and how they can be used. More importantly, it is essential that students are aware of which apps can enrich, extend and support them in their education. Focusing on this will enable them to think about how they can learn, present and engage themselves rather than following instructions.

Once students are aware of apps that are available and how they can be used, you are in a fantastic position for autonomous learning. App Autonomy allows students to be creative, innovative and make choices about how they want to learn with an iPad. This is not to say that the use of an app is required all of the time, but, when a student realises that they can achieve more or learn better from, or with, an app, that is true learning.

With this in mind, it is useful to identify the potential of what this can achieve and recognise the benefits of incorporating this style of learning into lessons. Research indicates, and observing the impact in lessons, that App Autonomy increases pupil motivation; it enhances critical thinking, creativity and innovation; it allows students to transfer and learn new skills and it increases content knowledge. The problem is, how do we get them there?

I always start by nurturing a Digital Growth Mindset in the classroom. This targets another outcome of App Autonomy: learning to deal with failure. Too many times in a class do students get stuck and ask for help. The problem is not that they can’t do something, it is that they haven’t got the mindset to try a different approach. The Power of Yet! It sounds so simple but changing the way students think has a huge impact on the way they learn. I CAN’T DO THIS becomes I CAN’T DO THIS… YET. Carol Dweck explains this powerfully in her TED talk



Students who are willing to take risks, more resilient and persevering, able to try different approaches and open to making mistakes are a pleasure to teach. They often make quicker progress and, more often than not, achieve. However, we should all be open to making mistakes; it’s a great experience. I make plenty of mistakes in lessons but I work with the students to solve them. The example we set needs to be the behaviour we want. Albert Einstein once said, ‘It’s not that I’m so smart; It’s just that I stay with problems longer’. This is exactly what we want to achieve and the example we should be setting, but I don’t think we should take Albert’s modesty too seriously!

Once students buy into this mindset, you can then explore ways of fostering App Autonomy into the classroom. There are 3 words that sum up App Autonomy which should be at the centre of it: Expose, Captivate, Choice.


I believe that students learn best through play; it helps build self-worth by giving a child a sense of what they can achieve and absorbs them into the activity. It is also fun. Students also enjoy learning from their peers; it builds collaborative learning skills which are vital for their lifelong learning… or teaching… if they are crazy enough to take it on. Using an extension task chart, or something similar, you can expose students to a range of tasks whilst covering many different apps. Completing these mini tasks, independently or with a partner, they become familiar with a range of apps and can start to identify other ways of using them. We don’t necessarily need to teach students how to use the apps, we just need to facilitate the opportunities they have to use them.


Image courtesy of Tom Edge @classedgetech

Although the need for teaching students how to use an app becomes less, there are times when transferable skills need to be isolated and developed. No matter what skill level, when a task becomes competitive, it becomes fun but also a learning opportunity – if managed correctly. App-lectics is an idea where you can set up a simple task and give the students a set time to complete. For example:


Image courtesy of Tom Edge @classedgetech

These challenges, which can be modified to however easy or hard you want, set up a competitive environment. Those who manage to complete the task first then become the educators, who help others in the class, guiding them, not doing it for them. At a first look, these challenges show the app that can be used, making it seem pretty straightforward. However, it wasn’t until I used this with my class that I realised there was another element to this. Innovation and thinking ‘outside the box’. Upon presenting challenge 1 to the students, I hoped that they would take a picture of Arnie, place it into Morfo, then complete the speech. I was astounded by a student who had achieved the same goal in no time at all, using MSQRD (Masquerade).

Once students become familiar with this game, the next step is giving them ownership of it. Mark Anderson recently published The Periodic Table of iPad Apps, inspired by Sean Junkins but cleverly remixed to consider the Blooms Taxonomy verbs that classify learning complexities. This, not only a fantastic tool for students to assess their knowledge as part of a digital portfolio, can become a game board where App-letics is taken to 1:1 competition. Students can showcase their skills, learning new ones too. Once a task is completed, they can initial the app, trying to join as many together. Thus, Connapp Four and Appleships (like the game ‘Battleships’) were born.


Image courtesy of Tom Edge @classedgetech

Using this as a game board for students, they become aware of the apps available to them and what they can achieve. Equipped with the tools to manage their own learning, this will have so many benefits in future learning. As mentioned, it can also be used as an assessment tool where students can level their competence with each app and then set targets. There is no problem with teachers amending this to suit the needs of their class or finding innovative ways of using it.

I recently spoke with Mark and he wants to make a dent in universe when it comes to education. By using this, observing the growth in digital confidence and being impressed with the students’ application of initiative, he has made a dent in my teaching and I think we should all be sharing best practice so we can do the ‘denting’ for him. We are in a fantastic position where social media can help this. We have all spent hours searching through primary resources or TES to enhance learning opportunities or provide engaging resources for students. It’s time we throw these onto social media to inspire others or make people aware of what can done in hope that they will be used when, or if, they are needed.

Nurturing these skills, assessing for future learning and providing freedom of choice, teachers are in a great position for students to be creative and innovative through project based learning. Project based learning allows pupils to apply their skills but also learn new ones from their groups/partners. Before grouping students, it is important to think about how you’re going to get the best out of them and how you can group them so they are able to share and develop knowledge.  Captivating topics or assignments that students are interested in will engage them; behaviour problems, or the management of it, decreases when students are motivated to achieve. Once the captivating projects have been chosen (by both students and teacher), the class can discuss which apps will support them, identify their competency with them, then later, reflect on what they have learnt over the project.


Image courtesy of Tom Edge @classedgetech

With this, students are aware of their ability, can identify what they need to learn and can work collaboratively to produce and choose something that will best present their skills and learning. Obviously, guidance and intervention is needed along the way to keep students on track, but the freedom this offers promotes creativity, enhances learning experiences, demands a deep level of critical thinking and allows students to be innovative. App Smashing – the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks. How many apps can your students smash to create something unique, original and a lot of fun?

I once had a conversation with a teacher about how they could be innovative in the classroom. I think that is the wrong question to ask. More to the point, how can we create a platform for students to be innovative in the classroom? The best way I believe to achieve this is by exposing students to all of the resources available to them; captivate them with engaging topics that will push their perceived capabilities; and, most of all, give them a choice.

Thomas Edge


Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson, @ICTEvangelist. Click here to learn more.