Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another Hamaguchi App Winner

First Words International                 
Patti Hamaguchi has developed another well thought out and executed app. First Words International is a basic vocabulary app. It offers 50 words in seven different languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, French, Japanese, Hindi and Russian. What sets this app apart from other vocabulary apps is the way in which Ms. Hamaguchi has made this app fun for children. She has done this through sound, animation and record/playback features.

The receptive vocabulary aspect of this app is presented in the following fashion: A picture appears in the middle of the screen. The narrator says, “Here is a _______.” Four different versions of the same object then pop up. As each picture appears, it is named. Thus, the child hears the same vocabulary word five times. The child is then instructed to “Find the ___.” Tap on one of the five pictures and the screen changes to show the object among four other entirely different objects. The child finds the object, taps on it and hears it's name again. (By now, the child has heard the vocabulary word repeated seven times---a nice amount of auditory bombardment.) Once that is done, the screen again changes. This screen has a slot machine-like spinner that spins when the PLAY button is tapped. It spins through different objects until it stops on the object practiced on the preceding screens. The narrator says, “What is it? Say it.” Tap on the red button to record the child as she says the word. Tap on the blue button with the ear and the child hears her production. Tap on the CHECK button to hear the narrator say the word. This is also the screen that allows for scoring. Tap on the green check if the child’s response is correct or on the red X if she is wrong.

Built into app is a reward in the form of an animation. One can set the reward to appear after one, three or five responses.  Each of the animations is different and appealing for children. Once the animation is finished the screen moves to the next vocabulary word.

Settings allow one to select whether or not the task will be to find, say the word or both. One can also select the order of the activities, specific words or a random presentation and picture style (photo, color, or random). One can also select random or custom presentation of animations or no animation as well as random or custom sounds. Text can be turned on/off. This app collects data for up to 15 children.

The vocabulary is appropriate for children who are about 18-30 months old. Bilingual educators and parents, who wish to introduce their children to other languages, can use this app with any age.

Ages: 18 months to 30 months as a vocabulary app; any age for second language learners
Ratings: ++++
Developer website: Hamaguchiapps.com
Cost: $9.99

Friday, May 11, 2012

Reply to Smarty Ears

Before I respond to the various replies to my Buyer Beware blog, I would like to share what I knew about Smarty Ears and Barbara Fernandes prior to Buyer Beware. I knew that Ms. Fernandes was one of the first speech pathologists to develop apps for the profession. I knew that her company had grown and so had the number of apps she had put in the iTunes store. I knew that her LinkedIn group forum was called GeekSLP. I had no idea what any of her apps were like since I had never purchased any of them. Hence, I had never had the occasion to form any opinion of Smarty Ears apps. More importantly, I have never held, nor have had any reason to have held, any biases for or against Ms. Fernandes, her employees or her company.

A super long time ago, during grad school, I took a research methodology course. One of the objectives was to learn to critique research. An important educational point made was that one should not always take claims of efficacy, cause-effect, results and conclusions, even those done by researchers in reputable institutions, at face value. Nevertheless, sometimes I will just believe a claim without question because it is just easier than “checking it out.” Then there are times, when a connection or claim is made and my interest is piqued. That is what caused me to post Buyer Beware. As a result of the post I received many replies, three of which were written by people affiliated with Smarty Ears: Sean Sweeny, MtMarySLP and Barbara Fernandes.

Regarding my issue with Ms. Fernandes reviewing one of her apps, Mr. Sweeny, the New Product Development Manager for Smarty Ears, stated, “As for Barbara leaving a review, that is something that can be done when an app is downloaded, and it's pretty transparent as to who she is.” The overriding question is, should it have been done? In my opinion, no. Does everyone who reads the Smarty Ear app reviews really know that Barbara Fernandes owns Smarty Ears? Wouldn’t transparency come in the form of Ms. Fernandes stating her name, followed by CEO of Smarty Ears? Clearly, Ms. Fernandes liked the app because she accepted someone’s idea and it is now in her product line. I simply disagree with the appropriateness of reviewing an app that is her product.

After that post, cmf-slp posted about her disappointment with Smarty Ears Match2Say app and the amount of money she paid for the app. In reply, I posted that another gripe I had with Smarty Ears that had to do with the way some of their app descriptions state that the app is based on research. MtMarySLP, who helped author an app for Smarty Ears, noted, “The introduction of the app, where it cites research, is written by the author of the app - not Smarty-Ears.” That may be, but Smarty Ears offers the app as its product and is responsible for what is written on its site. MtMarySLP makes another point, “Many questions are asked about the research and efficacy of using apps in therapy.  As SLPs we are responsible for doing research and using best practices. If an app is based on theory and research and can support that with cited articles - shouldn't it be stated?”  I agree that we are each responsible for doing research and using best practices. That is precisely what I did when I questioned Smarty Ears citation.  Should we, as professionals, take at face value a statement such as, “supported by research?”  Can it be that the research does not exactly support the premise of the app? Let’s take the Go-Togethers app, the one whose description caught my attention, as an example. The app description notes that the “…app is based on research around vocabulary and word meaning development in students.” The next sentence alludes to research by “McGregor, Newman, Reilly & Capone (2002).” The paper (McGregor, Newman, Reilly & Capone, Semantic Representation and Naming in Children With Specific Language Impairment, JSHR, Oct 2002; 45: 998 – 1014) examines the relationship between a child’s aptitude with semantic knowledge, synonyms, and word retrieval and word naming accuracy. Go-Togethers targets associations and categories, important skills in language development and reasoning tasks. The problem is that associations and categories were not the focus of the study nor were they mentioned as relevant to the outcome of the study. So why mention the study? Is it meant to lend credence to value of that particular app? These two questions were what led me to my comment about research being used as a marketing trick. Perhaps, “trick” was too strong a word. But the reference is misleading.

Regarding my interest in reviewing her apps, Ms. Fernandes asked, “… why do you feel like Smarty Ears is under any obligation to give you our apps for free so that you can do a review? Yes, we do give them to bloggers and reviewers, however our resources are limited and we are not able to accommodate everyone. I am sorry about that, but making a blog to "write unbiased reviews" does not make anyone entitled to FREE CODES for app reviews. I did not mean to sound too critical but I do not feel that this post was done in a fair, balanced, or even with the “SLP hat on”, so I wanted to provide our perspective on it.” I am sorry, Ms. Fernandes, that you feel that, by pointing out that you reviewed one of your own apps, and that my questioning the link to research purported to support Go-Togethers was unfair, unbalanced and unprofessional. Are we to conclude that a fair, balanced and professional speech pathologist is one who raises no questions about what you write or what you do? Raise a question about Smarty Ears and one is accused of using vitriol as when Mr. Sweeny stated, “I am confused by the vitriol here.” Vitriol as in malicious, malevolent, hateful, hostile, virulent, and nasty? Really?  Really, Mr. Sweeny?

Regarding free apps: I understand the limitations an app developer has when handing out free apps. I do not feel “entitled” to receiving any developer’s apps. However, I can assure Ms. Fernandes and other app developers that I would provide unbiased reviews of their apps. I would do so not to please the people at Smarty Ears or other app developers. Rather, I would so because the readers of my blog have a right to read about the pros and cons of apps they may want to purchase. Most of us do not have unlimited funds to spend on apps. Apps can be expensive and unlike hard materials they are not returnable for a refund. We need to spend wisely. And we need to know that the reviewer will not be bent to the will of the app developer nor does he/she benefit financially from her positive reviews.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beware of Customer Reviews at the App Store

I don't too often read the Customer Reviews at the app store. But maybe I should start. A speech path, on one of the many lists I subscribe to, recommended an app. I wanted to see what it was all about and went to the app store. I read the description, looked at the visuals and glanced down at the reviews. I saw that Barbara Fernandes had reviewed the app. You may not be aware, but Ms. Fernandes is the owner of Smarty Ears and her company is the developer of the app she reviewed. Hello, hello, Ms. Fernandes.

A while ago, I offered to review Smarty Ears apps but Ms. Fernandes did not respond.