Friday, August 30, 2013

Great apps search tool - and a free app review!

**Update 11/26: Balefire now has a 2 day free trial!!! 

**Update 9/3: Balefire is now posting a free app review each month to give people a sense for their offerings. Here's this month's free review on Wet-Dry-Try - "Handwriting without Tears." **

We've written about searching for quality apps before, and have also done a few reviews/how to's about some specific apps.. I think you'll agree that it's frustrating and time consuming to search various online apps stores, blogs, etc. looking for apps that will actually assist in educating children (can you say 'needle in a haystack?'). Relying on the number of stars that an app has seems a really ineffective way to judge an apps EDUCATIONAL value (may be a great babysitting tool, though!).  I've found a really good source to help find quality apps. Balefire Labs has over 1300 apps reviewed (vast majority right now are iOS, but they are adding more for Android, too). The apps list grows monthly...

Balefire evaluates apps based upon a research-based, structured methodology. I think their ratings give a more refined answer to the educator's question "how do I know (or at least have an inkling) that app XXX will in fact support student learning?" Apps are rated overall, and the details (rating of several different criteria, like error and correct response feedback, performance reports, etc.) are available to view, too. Read more about their criteria here. Their user interface allows for search by several different criteria (age, subject, and so on).

I really like the fact that Balefire takes no money from advertisers. There a small subscription fee - less than $36 for an annual subscription. 

I stumbled across Karen Mahon's blog a while back. She's the company founder, and her blog was how I found about Balefire. After chatting with Karen over several weeks, she asked me to be a part of Balefire's Educator Advisory Board (full disclosure!). No, I am not compensated for my advice to them. I think it's great that she's pulled together several educators with varied backgrounds to help provide a 'user voice.'

Please share your thoughts about evaluating educational apps (successes, frustrations...).  I think there is a need to help educators quickly find quality educational apps, without having to design a selection methodology on their own. I know that Balefire is not the only choice as an app review repository, but it does seem that the crew of this startup has some great ideas and the right passion. Balefire could be an important part of our arsenal to quickly cut to the chase on the apps our students need to help them learn.  What do you think?

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