Monday, August 20, 2012

The App Development Learning Curve

Those readers who read my earlier posts know that I began developing an app nearly a year ago. I had hired a local company called Zenuity. They had an impressive office in a building about ten minutes from my home. The first person I met was Earl Mincer. He was the lead tech man of the company and it's primary salesman for convincing one that Zenuity can get the job done. I told him about my app idea and he said his company could easily handle the job. He assured me that his creative staff was excellent. A mock-up was made before we proceeded further. Once that was done, we had a meeting so that my husband, who is in the high tech industry, could ask Earl questions relevant to the technology that would be used. My husband felt good that Earl knew what he was talking about. We then agreed on the cost and terms of the contract. I was excited that my app idea would soon come to fruition. My excitement was premature. The app should have been completed by December. By December only a couple of drawings had been done. Excuses were made up by Allison, the project manager, as to why nothing was moving. After numerous frustrating phone calls and emails, I requested a new project manager. She was replaced by Kitty V'Marie. Kitty was also the office manager. Kitty seemed to have a better handle on the inner workings as they related to my app, but she was also evasive when I asked about the progress of the app. By January, my patience was beginning to run out. The only portion of the app the company to had to show for its efforts were a few simple drawings. By February, I had lost complete confidence in the company's abilities to produce an app. I asked to meet with the heads of the company. Joining the meeting was the company's owner, Joel Kellman, Kitty and Earl. I told Joel that it did not seem like the company was up to the task of producing an app of my kind. Joel asked a lot of questions of Kitty, Earl and me. He said he was sure that the progress of the app would now pick up. Come April, nothing had changed. I called another meeting to tell them that I was ready to part ways with them. Joel insinuated that my app had morphed into something more complicated and costly. He hinted around for more money. I did not bite. I told him that I was terminating our relationship and requested a full refund of the monies. Joel said that he needed to talk the accountant and his lawyer. A week later the company was out of business. Did I lose my money? Nearly, but I got lucky. I had paid for the deposit with a credit card. The credit card company issued me a full refund after performing an investigation.

How does one avoid getting caught in a scam of this kind?

1. First, I would google the company's name and see what comes up. When I started to have suspicions about the company,  I googled Joel Kellman and Earl Mincer. I found numerous complaints about them and the other diverse companies they had set up in the area.

2. I would ask to see apps the company had completed. This way you will be able to see the quality of their work and if their skills are in line with what you will need.

3. Get in touch with someone who had an app developed by the company. Ask that person about their experiences with the app developer.

4. Schedule a meeting with the person who will be working on your app. This does not mean the project manager. This means the person who will be working on the app directly. The conversation with this person may help you decide if this is someone you want to work with.

5. Ask the person for a project timeline. How long will it take to complete the app?

6. Discuss the responsibilities that you will each have in getting your app completed and into the app store.

7. I had worked out a payment schedule with Earl, but my error was giving too much money at the outset. I would work out a payment schedule that broke payments down into smaller bits. For instance, the first payment would be for seeing the completed drawings of the characters. This way if something goes wrong you've laid out less money. Also, the company has a greater incentive for moving the project along.

8. Set up a weekly schedule to go over any questions you or the developer may have. These meetings should also give you an idea of where the developer is in the process.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Great Middle and High School Dictionary Apps

The Enchanted Dictionary: Apps for our profession continue to get better and better. The Enchanted Dictionary apps for 4-6th and 7-12th grades are proof of how far app developers have come in producing apps that utilize the wonders of the iPad as they teach and challenge children. These two creative apps are not dictionaries in the Webster sense. Words are not looked up as much as they are taught. The teaching of word definitions occurs in categories: English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. Within these general categories are subcategories that offer definitions of terms specific to the subcategory. For instance, in the category of Mathematics are the subcategories of charts and graphs, geometry, measurement, number theory, probability and statistics and time. Tap on a subcategory and a list of words germane to that category appear to the right along with their definition.  The fun way to utilize the apps is to tap on the Play! button on the upper left of the screen. But first, one has to select the words that will appear during play. One can choose Select All or Select None. Select None allows one to individually choose the words for play. Once one enters Play! an open book appears. The page on the right has the word that needs to be defined. The page on the left has a bunch of scrambled words that float around (hence enchanted). The student needs to arrange the floating words in correct order on the right so as to complete the definition of the word. One can drag or flick the words to the right. A word will move and stay to the right only if it is the correct word in the sequence of words needed to complete the definition. If the incorrect word is selected, it will float back to the left. Granted, students can guess around and drag/flick a word until it sticks and then randomly pick another word, thus avoiding thinking about the definition. Even so, at the point when all the words appear in correct order, the word is defined. Hopefully, the guessing student will read the definition, thus making it a learning experience anyhow. One has the option of adding or editing definitions, categories, or subcategories by simply tapping on the "Edit" button at the top of the screen.

I like the layout of the categories and definitions on the screen. The categories and defined words are written in bold black font. The definitions are written in gray beneath the words.

There is no scoring feature or database for keeping track of the progress of students. I asked the app's developer Marg Griffin about this. She replied, "We didn't add data collection to Enchanted Dictionary because we see it primarily as an intervention method to help students become more aware of how they learn vocabulary as well as how definitions are phrased. Because of that, how long it takes them to complete a definition or how many errors they make is less relevant than how much they improve in being able to use the targeted vocabulary in speaking or writing. That is the sort of data I track when I use it with my students." Fair enough. The only problem is that school speech pathologists must collect data, no matter how senseless that task is. Perhaps a simple scoring feature might be included in an upgrade to help out our school colleagues.

I would recommend these apps to middle and high school teachers as well as speech pathologists. Priced at $1.99, they are a real bargain.

Ages: children in 4th-6th and 7th-12th grades
Ratings: ++++1/2
Developer website:
Cost: $1.99 each

Friday, August 10, 2012

Apps and EBP

When I review apps, my years of experience play a significant role in my assessments of the usefulness of apps. I rarely base my reviews on research to determine if the app is evidence based.  This is because research is time consuming and the reviews of apps take a considerable amount of my time. However, I do check suspicious claims. A claim will strike me as suspicious if I suspect that the citation of research has been done to sell the app. Those of you who have read my earlier posts know that I have shown where a claim of an app being based on research is not supported by the research cited.

In this month's ASHA Leader, Lara Wakefield and Teresa Shaber, in their article, "APP-titude: Use the Evidence to Choose a Treatment App," noted, "App developers' descriptions and customers' reviews, however, may lack discussions of evidence and contain inherent biases. SLPs who use only this information may be relying solely on opinions and advertisements to make decisions."  Wakefield and Shaber then discuss a five step process for determining if an app is evidence based. These steps are: 
Step 1: Frame your clinical question using PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparison, and Outcome).
Step 2: Find the evidence.
Step 3: Assess the evidence.
Step 4: Search the app store and consult the evidence.
Step 5: Make a clinical decision and integrate the different types of evidence to determine your choices.

It is quite easy to do the research. Some app developers cite research in their app descriptions. Follow their lead and make sure the research does support the developers’ claims. ASHA has a database of thousands of articles. Do a search using a few key words and a screen will appear with various articles to peruse.

If one wants to be certain that a particular app meets evidence based standards, one needs to go that extra mile.