Having an online web presence is what most schools nowadays would see as an essential resource. And nowadays, with more and more mobile phone owners in a school community, a natural extension might seem to be having a mobile phone app for the school too.
Why would a school wish to have a mobile phone app?
It can be simply an extension of the online web presence – but websites sometimes don’t display properly in mobile phone screens and so it may be that all that is required is to ensure your existing website can be viewed on mobile devices. Or to ensure your website is designed in such a way that it automatically recognises that it is being viewed on a mobile device and presents a version of the website optimised for better viewing on a mobile device (that might mean fewer graphics displaying so essential information loads quickly and navigation buttons with larger font sizes). As with a school website or blog a mobile phone app can incorporate RSS feeds from various sources, so that when added in one place it automatically appears elsewhere too, thus avoiding duplication of effort.
This news story about a group of schools explains what the schools hoped to gain in having mobile apps for their schools:
Create your Own School App – this is a post by Joseph Mazza describing the reasoning behind his school’s move to creating an app and the steps they took to creating one and making it available to parents.
A mobile phone app which is simply a version of the website made viewable on a mobile phone will require internet access for users to be able to access information. However an app created specifically for the mobile phone may have tools and resources which remain on the mobile device even when there is no internet access.
Therefore before embarking on developing an app specific to one mobile device platform (such as Apple, Android, Windows) it would be important to determine why you would wish an app so that if the mobile version of an existing website (or a mobile app which draws in feeds automatically to a mobile version of the website) is all that is required then there is no need to allocate resources to development of a bespoke downloadable mobile app.
Should You Build a Mobile App or Mobile Website? is an article and infographic poster by MDG advertising which sets out the questions to ask about your purpose to help determine whether in your situation it would be better to develop an app or a mobile version of a website.
What tools are available to create mobile phone app?
Examples of website/blog tools which present users viewing a website or blog with the mobile version (but with option to switch to full desktop version of the site) include Wix and WordPress. Note that mobile versions of websites would therefore normally require internet access in order to access updated information. Users would normally access the mobile app version of the school website by accessing the website address for the school on the mobile device.
The App Builder – is a free app-creator site which lets you create apps which will work on iPhones/iPads, Android, Windows devices. This also has a free to download Powerpoint presentation lesson for teachers to use with pupils taking them through the steps to creating an app – from the process of working out why one is needed to how to make it, and to sharing it. The free version has discrete advertising for The App Builder. This tool lets creators add RSS feeds from various sites, or from YouTube channels, Facebook, Twitter and more, as well as maps and links to specific websites. So it can be used for events, or groups or a host of other purposes. Combined with the useful lesson presentation on app creation this would be a useful tool for teachers looking to introduce app creation to pupils.
If you wish to have an app which is downloaded from app store/marketplace or similar then the following tools may be helpful.
Note that an app created in this way could still have information automatically updated when there is an internet connection on the mobile device, but when a major update to the app itself is required the mobile device owner would be prompted to update from their app store/marketplace. Note also that each mobile device platform (e.g. iOS, Android, Windows) in this case would usually require a separate app created specifically for that platform.
- http://teach.appinventor.mit.edu/ – App Inventor from MIT
- How to start developing apps for the iPhone - an in-depth article by Walter Apai detailing the options and steps involved in developing an app specifically for Apple iOS devices.
- Corona free app creator for PC for any phone Corona tutorials: http://www.learningcorona.com/
- http://www.angeleducation.co.uk/appshop/index.php/about-us.html is a commercial company providing apps specifcally for schools for a variety of mobile device platforms.
- http://infinitemonkeys.mobi/ – Infinite Monkeys app creator lets you create an app for free though there is a cost for native apps for different mobile platforms.
Creating Apps is a further list of resources for creating apps, collated and described by Chris Smith. Link here too: http://www.shambles.net/pages/learning/ict/createapps/
Whichever route you end up going down, and before devoting time, energy and resources to creating an app for your school, consider why you want an app to determine whether a mobile version of your existing website/blog will do all you envisage at this stage.