Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Impressive Language Apps

Between the Lines Levels 1 and 2: Patti Hamaguchi has succeeded again in raising the bar for excellence in apps. These apps give us a good reason to swap our paper materials for the latest in technology.

Each Between the Lines app targets listening skills, language comprehension and reasoning skills (inferences, the understanding of idioms and common expressions and the reading of facial expressions and body language). Ms. Hamaguchi has done an outstanding job of laying out these skills in an appealing format. The focus of the tasks fall into three general categories: Body Language and Perspective Taking, Listening and Facial Expressions, and Expressions, Idioms and Slang. What makes the presentation of the tasks interesting are the video clips and the clear portrayals of emotions done by the actors. The video clips run for Body Language and Perspective Taking and Expressions, Idioms and Slang. The actors perform in a short clip after which possible answers in "thinking bubbles" appear below. The user checks the answer h/s feels is best demonstrated in the clip. For Listening and Facial Expressions the user, rather than viewing a video clip, hears a statement after which "thinking bubbles" appear for answer selection.

The Settings screen is nicely divided into five categories by colorful buttons: Activities, Encouragement, Answer Choices, Reward Game, and Track Progress. The Activities tab moves one to the screen where one selects one or all categories to be played: Listening and Facial Expressions, Body Language and Perspective Taking and/or Expressions, Idioms and Slang. One also selects the order of activities be it finishing one activity before moving on to the next, rotating activities or random presentation. The Encouragement button offers praise phrases to be offered after a specific number of correct answers, randomly or no praise at all. One selects two, three or four answer choices to be presented for each task and whether or not one wishes that these choices be shown automatically or manually. Selecting the manual option allows for discussion of the scenes presented and possible answers before they are shown.

The apps allow for individual (75 users) or group use. One finds the progress, date of play, and scores for each student by tapping the Track Progress button in Settings. Adding or selecting users is easy. Who is playing is obvious by name and color (the user(s) selected to play are shown as red those not playing are blue). There is a bit of a learning curve to this screen that is made easier by the help button at the top of the screen shown as a question mark. Tap on it and a screen opens that explains how to navigate the page. User results can be saved as PDF, emailed or printed.

Ms. Hamaguchi has gone a few extra steps beyond what is available on the average app. She offers a good demo that shows one how to use the app.  The demo can be viewed by tapping the Demo button on the home screen. Her Information screen, in addition to answering questions, offers ideas for extending and enhancing the tasks on the app. Ideas for auditory memory, vocabulary, emotions, associations, word retrieval and more are offered. I would also extend their uses to include predicting, answering "wh" and "how" questions, problem solving, and discussion of events that may have led up to scene shown in the video.

There are only two criticisms I have of the apps. The app offers three reward games: dunking, darts, and can knock-down. Each game is colorful and appears interactive but it is not. To play each game, the student taps a throw button that releases a ball aiming for either a bull’s eye or stacked cans. The ball’s trajectory is random. Thus, when the bull’s eye is hit, the man falls into a tank of water, the number the dart hits or when it hits the bull’s eye and the number of times it takes to down all the cans is determined by the app not the user. Unfortunately, I did not find the games engaging or fun. My other criticism has to do with the clarity of speech of the actors. I found that, on the whole, their rate was fast and not infrequently hard to understand.

The positives of these apps far outweigh their drawbacks. There is no doubt that Ms. Hamaguchi has developed two excellent apps well worth their reasonable cost.

Ages: Between the Lines 1--5 to 10 years; Between the Lines 2--8 to adult.
Ratings: ++++1/2  for each apps
Developer website:
Costs: $15.99 each. According to the information provided, there are a total of 204 tasks in Between the Lines Level 1 and 199 tasks in Level 2. The lite version of each app can be used with one student, has a total of 36 tasks and one reward game. The lite versions cost $.99 each.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mirla's Opinion on "There’s no such thing as a “free” app, so get over it and pony up!"

The Speech Dudes wrote an interesting opinion in their blog on the topic of paying for apps. They open their blog with, "There is no such thing as a 'free' app, so get over it and pony up!"

For those of you who have not read their blog, here is a summary. The Speech Dudes start their blog by simulating a letter from a parent requesting free speech services for their child. They then ask the reader to substitute free speech therapy services with free apps to highlight the ridiculousness of the parent's request. They go on to give examples of parental spending on such things as a cup of coffee for $2.45 without complaining or even giving it a thought and then complain about spending a couple of dollars on an app. I  agree that when it comes to our services parents hem and haw about the cost. Is this because it is free in the schools? Good chance. The Speech Dudes offer that perhaps the app freebies have spoiled parents into thinking that all things are equal. In other words, the free apps are as good as the apps that cost money. They go on to discuss why apps must come with a price.

I fully agree with the Speech Dudes' argument. They are right. But they omitted a critical point in the app purchasing department. The point is that if we purchase an item, it can be returned for a refund if we do not like it. Take their coffee example. If we do not like the coffee and do not drink it, we can ask and get our money back. The same goes for most items we purchase. If the shoes we bought are not comfortable after we have worn them at home, they can be returned. If the movie is lousy and we decide to leave after the first half hour or so, we ask for our money back. If there is another movie we would like see in the theater, no problem. Not so with apps. We cannot return them. We cannot even lend them or sell them to someone else as we can with other products we purchase. I for one, do not like to buy ebooks because I cannot lend them to friends who have edevices or give them to the library.

Why do not Apple and app developers get together and discuss this issue? One of the first apps I bought was so disappointing that it led me to start this blog. Why not offer consumers an unbiased opinion of the app they are about to purchase, I thought. Hopefully, this blog has helped you but it is not the answer. There needs to be a new way of thinking about apps. Why does the consumer need to throw money away in the form of a poor app? I do not believe that all consumers expect apps to be free. However, I do believe that they want their money to be well spent. And if they do not like the item, it does not do what they were led to believe it would do, it is a lousy app, they have buyers remorse or whatever, they should have the opportunity to remove it and get their money back.

What do you think?