I recently discussed in class the emergence of the 17th century Scientific Revolution, including the growth of our faith in science and the often unquestioned belief that new technology is always “progress.” I have my doubts about that, especially when I read studies suggesting that digital technology may reduce the average attention span. However, I’m just as invested in technology as the next person, so I look for any new app that will help me or my students improve or complete our academic responsibilities.
New apps are created everyday, but I still think there are some missed opportunities. While there are some creative approaches to this challenge, such as Kevin Corrigan’s humorous “8 iPhone Apps I Wish Existed,” which includes the “Ex-Girlfriend Radar” and “Should You Shower?” apps, there’s not much from the educator’s perspective. We’re in a good position to observe what students need, though, so here is my list of fantasy apps I would love to see:
- Syllabus Checker: Students can type in a question and the app will automatically scan the syllabus to find the answer. Why is this necessary? Because I answer dozens of questions a week that are already answered by the syllabus, everything from due dates to instructions on how to complete assignments. This app will save me- and the class -time, while also training students to thoroughly read the syllabus.
- Zip It: In a related app, students can self-censor their in-class comments. Before speaking, type in your comment and the app will tell you if you should go ahead and speak or “zip it”- keep it to yourself. This is to help you from making embarrassing or irrelevant comments in class. I’m referring to those moments when students reveal just how rarely they’ve come to class or paid any attention to the syllabus, lectures, or discussions.
- Snap Out if It!: This app will gently shock or buzz students who go into a daze or nod off in class. I see this phenomenon a lot more at the community college where I teach than I ever did at state universities and private colleges, and a lot more often in the past few years. Granted I may not be the most fascinating instructor every day of the year, but I believe this behavior is due to the very difficult schedules of the higher population of non-traditional students who work full-time, raise families, and try to squeeze their college education in around those demands. Let’s give them a hand by creating an app that can monitor their physical condition and help them stay alert.
- Change Course: Every semester, some students are blindsided by their final grade and simply have no idea how they failed the class. I have also had many painful discussions with students who come to me just before the end of the semester to ask if they have any chance of passing the course and if they should bother taking the final exam. While Grade Tracker already exists to help students monitor their GPA, how do they know when it’s time to cut their losses and drop a particular class? Maybe molecular biology isn’t right for you, and you could fulfill your science requirements with a different course. This app will let students know when their grades have reached a point when not even a miracle will help them pass the course, saving them a lot of time and effort and, hopefully, allow them to withdraw before their GPA is damaged. You may lose the tuition for the course if you withdraw, but it may be costlier to have an “F” on your transcript.
- When Can I Study?: The iStudiez Pro app already allows students to schedule their lives and receive alerts when assignment due dates approach, but with the crowded schedules of today’s students, when can they study? Students can input their course and work schedules, family commitments and sleep needs, and this app will schedule optimum study times throughout the day.
- Cite This!: EasyBib helps students manage their research notes, but what about when to cite? Most students know that they should cite direct quotes, but don’t realize that they also need to cite information they paraphrase or ideas they have learned elsewhere. This app will scan a paper and highlight passages that may require some form of citation in instances other than direct quotes.
- Cheater Alert: This app will work in conjunction with Cite This! (above) to track whether or not the words you are using are consistent with your normal mode. If not, maybe you’ve accidentally “borrowed” it. This app will sound an alarm and tell you that you need to double-check your source.
- Exam Predictor: Don’t tell me you weren’t prepared for the exam. Instead, get this app, which will scan your textbook and lecture notes, link main and/or repeated concepts, and highlight them so that you spend more time studying them before an exam. The Exam Predictor app will help students stay focused and avoid getting distracted by minutia.
- Stay in Class: If you want to avoid being asked to leave class, stay off your phone. It’s a pretty simple rule, but some students have a difficult time resisting the siren call of their text messages. This app will automatically lock your phone so that you can’t use it during class times, unless it’s to call 911 in case of emergency (texting your best friend is not an emergency.)
- Real Cost Calculator: There are plenty of apps that calculate college costs. But I’d love to see an app that tells students just how much money they lose every time they talk, text, daydream, etc. in class by calculating tuition cost per minute of class time. This might be a more effective wake-up call than any poor grade or reprimand from an instructor.
These are just a few of the apps I wish were available right now. I know that not every problem can be solved with a cool new digital application, but I can dream, can’t I?