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Posts Tagged ‘app

Have you ever wondered what mobile apps might look like if they existed in the 1990s?

I got an answer when my son’s school authorities provided a notice for parents to download a “notification and attendance” app.

If you cannot remember what web pages looked like in the 1990s, this rude reminder might help.

The app reminded me of the web-based Java applets of old. It was plain and perfunctory. If the app could have an odour, it would be that of a musty attic or a mouldy basement. If it had an introductory screen, it would be to swipe cobwebs from its interface.

That is my way of saying it was unappealing. It was as if the app maker resented creating it.

The app was awful in form and function:

  • It constantly nagged you to log in.
  • It looked like it was ported from a desktop for point-and-click instead of swipe-and-tap.
  • As a phone app it was meant for portrait use, but it seemed to be designed from a landscape point of view.
  • It seemed to have borrowed its layout from a backward webmail programme. (Cough, iCON, cough!)
  • The designer might have taken paper prototyping too seriously. The layout and buttons look like paper outlines and stickers.

I share two screenshots and offer more specific comments with the examples below.

Snaapp app critique 1.

Screenshot 1: 

  • This is an example of the app’s blocky and monotone design.
  • Note its poor use of English.

Snaapp app critique 2.

Screenshot 2: 

  • The tappable icons or hotspots are inconsistently designed. 
  • The notification is incomplete: Saved to what location?
  • The landscape photo is saved in very low resolution as a portrait with black letterbox bars.

Local app makers need better design sense. For example:

  • Visual design: The look and feel should be modern or at least current, not a throw over from the Geocities web page era. A tight review of the five most popular communication apps should reveal a mountain of design clues.
  • Usability design: The mobile app should be a dedicated app instead of a wrapper of a web app. Good apps focus on what the user wants and needs, not on designer or desktop hangups.
  • Social design: A communication app should be designed for people to interact. It is not just for one party to disseminate. Users expect to be participants and to provide feedback. Build and promote those affordances.
  • Current design: Today’s design is flat and avoids skeuomorphism. Instagram recently changed its Polaroid-like camera icon to a modern, flat icon. Old design is like Microsoft clinging to the diskette “save” icon even though no one uses diskettes anymore.
  • Language: An app can look gorgeous and be user-friendly, but if its prompts are in broken English, its design is broken. This is not nitpicking; this is about taking pride in work.

Old and complacent design encourages old and complacent practice. Perhaps this is a strategy the app provider is using with schools. It looks safe and familiar to decision makers, so more schools might adopt it. But the app makers ignore other stakeholders and users at their peril.

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I get that this image tweet is an opposite play on apathy (app-athy, haha!), but does it make sense?

What does “Empathy is the app” mean? Something like this?

I realise that there is a movement to promote apps. I have also met many people whose knee-jerk reaction to any issue, even complex social ones, is an app.

Have people reflected critically on what apps are, how we use apps, and what apps cannot and cannot do?

What kind of app is empathy supposed to be: Gaming, social media, productivity, utility, augmented, fantasy, etc.?

How do we use such an app? Do we activate it only when we need it and follow a checklist? Do we close it when we do not need it? Or is the app intelligent enough to know when to pop up and remind us to be empathetic?

Do we have a home screen full of other apps like being professional, critical, creative, or considerate? Can values and behaviours be codified as apps? Can these “apps” be externalised and disowned?

Are they available in different app stores? Is there quality control? Do they come with regular updates?

Is the empathy app free, freemium, ad-supported, or paid? If the app store is not empathetic to app creators and changes policies, will the app change to meet the circumstances?

I really do not know what “Empathy is the app” means. Perhaps my human OS need upgrades and my home screen needs more apps. Perhaps the empathy app creators need to make a “multiple interpretations” or “Empathy for Dummies” app.

Footnote: Here is something for the app-oriented to do before or after you read this. I recommend you first install the sense of humour app, interpreting double meanings app, common sense app, and listening app. If your OS cannot run all the apps simultaneously in the background, you are screwed.

Yes, screenshorts. Not just screenshots.

Screenshorts are images of text, images, or whatever happens to be on your device’s screen. The Buzzfeed article embedded above describes screenshorts as a way to overcome Twitter’s 140-character limit.

This is a sociotechnical phenomenon. There is a technical barrier (the character limit in Twitter) and a workaround (you can embed a picture of practically anything in Twitter). A few people started embedded pictures of longer form text and more people adopted the practice because it worked.

I use this strategy to provide a hook, summary, or concept bite of a larger resource I share. It might help to think of this as serving up a movie trailer and a direct link to the movie.

My favourite tool for creating screenshorts is OneShot because it allows cropping, highlighting, and auto-finding the URL of the article. The last feature is not always accurate and you have the option of using the URL copied to the clipboard.

However, the problem with screenshorts is that images in Twitter do not help the visually-impaired. While we have optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it does not seem to have extended yet as a web or mobile standard.

So a solution that helps many seems to have become a problem for some. But that problem is an opportunity.

The maker of OneShot suggested that screen readers for the visually-impaired be further developed to include OCR of screenshorts. That could be a parallel effort alongside a longer term solution of web and mobile standards to decode and tag screenshorts.

In the meantime, there is already a commonly employed workaround. Instead of just taking screenshots, sharers also include a link to the original source. This is not a solution in that the original source is larger than the shared selection. But it is a workaround in that a screenreader is likely able to process the original source.

As with most things, technology outpaces human readiness. It is important to realize that we invent the technology and we create the problems that arise. But these problems might be opportunities for even better work. We need only treat them as such instead of complaining.

I very rarely use my blog to endorse an app, particularly one that is not directly related to educational technology.

But I am so impressed with Acompli for iOS that I think others should use it too. Android users can visit the Acompli website for updates.

Video source

The app is very accomplished for one that seems to be a mail app at first glance. It is also a sorting and scheduling app.

As an email app, it is better than the stock app in that you can sort email by what is unread, is flagged, or has file attachments. You can short swipe to archive email or long swipe to delete it. You can tap and hold items in the inbox for quick actions.


You can access your calendar (mine is GCal) straight from the app. Acompli handles schedule invites by letting you know if there are conflicts with existing appointments.

When you compose new email, you can also schedule an appointment, provide your location, and attach photos or other files.


Best of all, you get the app for nothing. It is free. This gives us the collective permission to wonder how the app company expects to monetize it, if its efforts are sustainable, or if some other larger fish will come along and gobble it up.

That aside, I should point out that I have not been asked to promote this app nor am I gaining anything from the company by extolling the affordances of Acompli.

The app seems to be very well thought out with a clear user-centric focus. The people behind it seemed to not just problem-solve but also problem-seek. And that is something we can all practice in our bid to be better than we were the day before.

One reason I maintain this blog is to help me look back and see how or if my thoughts and actions have changed over time.

Recently I looked back at photos in archives I had on my phone and iPad. Once I had put them online I sifted through them to remove what I did not need anymore.

It was then that I rediscovered a concept that I had sketched for one of our apps, mAPT, as well as screenshots of beta versions of the app.

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There was a year between beta testing and app store approval and distribution. There were months of design and development prior to that.

I still consider the app a proof-of-concept as there are still more features I would like to add and usage policies that we must overcome. But it is gratifying to see how far we have travelled.

It is a reminder to me that change does not have to be driven top-down. If you see a need (or can create a new need), you can fill it whether or not the system is ready for the change.

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Nowadays if you have cause, you can raise awareness and funds with a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, an app, etc.

The normal approach is to create a website and feature a short video to rally troops to your cause. For example, Worse Than Bad seeks to raise awareness of the social and environmental impact of the petrochemical industry led by Shell on the Niger delta.

Video source

In a less conventional approach, here is a spoof ad for a spoof app to raise awareness of the same.

Video source

Frankly, I wish there was such an app. I would include it in the game-based learning workshops I conduct!

I also think that fighting for causes is another element of social media education. Kids should learn how to do this with the tools already at their disposal. More importantly, this approach promotes a broader world view and a rethink of how to teach content and impart values.

Consider this parent’s (and former teacher’s) lament on the impact of the strictly textbook approach to things like creative writing.

In writing, we are told what to write, what title to give it, what words to use and avoid, to discard the unbelievable and play safe.

We are given picture compositions about a day at the beach, a bad fall, an incident on a bus – hardly fodder for interesting discussion.

My spouse, a college teacher, laments the lack of disciplined training in clear, logical thinking and the lack of ideas, persuasive argument and communication skills in his pre-university students. I wonder where we went wrong, when all this started.

When children are in primary school, why are they not asked for solutions to train disruptions, how to get women to have more babies, how to stop people from smoking? These are just as relatable, if not more fascinating, topics for discussion.

Consider how project work for our junior college students is an examinable subject. (Like much of schooling, both creative writing and project work have become overly structured and a burden instead of a joy or a valuable life skill.)

In looking for information on Singapore’s version of project work, I stumbled upon an open letter written in 2011 by a group of teachers to the Minister for Education. Here is a choice quote:

the students we teach are only 17 years old and have limited experience in dealing with real-world issues or contacting stakeholders who are relevant to their research needs.

As project work are formal exams, the teachers had this to say about destroying records of project work:

the instruction to destroy WRs (written reports) confounds us most.

Sir, we hear the government taking many steps to call on Singaporeans to put forth good ideas for society. This happens on a regular basis. However, PW teachers here are stunned and saddened that SEAB, in the name of assessment, can forgo thousands of painstakingly-written and well-research WRs each year and instruct schools to send them to the furnace/shredder.

On the impact of this and other project work policies as well as implementation foibles:

What saddens us ultimately is that these finer processes of groupwork and team dynamics will always be forgotten or parked aside in favour of easily measurable targets like grades and distinctions. Some of us have had the humble privilege of receiving personal notes from students who feel the same way.

To many perhaps, PW has become a ‘touch and go’ subject, a necessary pain they undertake in order to qualify for local universities only. We believe alot [sic] more can and should be done to change this sad perception. Many of us feel that the spirit which gave birth to this subject remains noble and excellent (and ought to be defended). However the current regulations have unfortunately, killed much of its original spirit and intent

I envision learners being required to identify, select, and tackle real world problems from an early age. These real world contexts could be platforms for teaching creative writing (advertise your cause), critical writing (defend your cause), project planning and management, and values education.

With the help of social media, all this happens in the presence of real audiences whose members can be more critical and helpful than a small group of teachers and examiners.

The cynics might say that hundreds or thousand of ‘Likes’ is not going to change the situation in the Niger delta, and by extension, the same could be said about any student causes in social media.

But they forget the awareness and funds such efforts can raise. They forget how tweets have reported news as it breaks, saved lives after catastrophes, and how much more connected the world is today. It is important to leverage on the way the modern world already operates today instead of relying a method designed for the industrial age.

Just as I would not be able to live with the social and environmental conditions in the Niger delta, I will not live with a system that claims to educate but merely schools.

I know that I am not alone with this sentiment. Some of us write in the press. Some of us write open letters in online platforms. Some of us meet via Twitter on Tuesdays 8-9pm, Singapore time (plug for #edsg!). Some of us take action where we can in our area of schooling or education so that we do not just live with it. We live it and change it.

We have developed an early version of a practicum app for supervisors and other classroom observers.

The app was developed with NIE’s practicum specifically in mind and classroom observation in general. After a user selects the evaluation form, the user will see three areas:

  • An editable observation form
  • A slider that when activated reveals the photo and video recording tool
  • Another slider that allows the user to view online resources like lesson plans and e-portfolios.

The observer can type information into the form, toggle +/- marks, sign the document, and then print it (via an Air Print capable printer), send it to Dropbox, or email it.

The app is not available in app store yet as we are still beta testing it.

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