By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
Administrators, teachers and students who want to catch a glimpse of the future of education won't have to try very hard. All they need to do is take a look at their own smartphones.
Whether they are used by a principal charged with running an entire school, a teacher in an elementary or high school classroom, or even a professor or student at the college level, applications, or "apps" for smartphones and other devices like Apple's iPad are gaining an increasing presence throughout institutions of education in America.
While most people associate apps - which are often created by third parties and sold for download on iPhones, iPads, iPods or Android devices - with entertainment and games, literally thousands of apps are made to meet the needs of educators and students.
"A lot of people use apps in their everyday life," said Monica Martinez, director of professional development for the Texas Computer Education Association. "Educators and districts are now realizing that they can use these as a tool to transform education."
For educators looking to use the power of the app in their classrooms, the choices are nearly overwhelming. Literally thousands of applications are available through a number of download sites, such as iTunes.
The Texas Computer Education Association, which promotes the use of technology in Texas classrooms, maintains a list of hundreds of apps, which it vets for effectiveness.
The list features everything from programs like StoryBuddy, which allows young children to write and illustrate their own book, to Language Builder for the iPad, which is an interactive program to help students who speak English as a second language.
"There are apps for administrators as well. For example, there are several that help them conduct classroom walkthroughs and evaluations," said Martinez. "It makes it easy for them to record what they see and it saves them time and paper."
David Dominguez, Ellison High School's principal, said he and his staff use an app called Tapatalk, which allows them to access a staff forum where they can discuss a variety of topics.
"We use it to share ideas, participate in book studies and discuss professional development," said Dominguez, whose school incudes a staff of more than 150 teachers. "It allows for a two-way conversation that's not going to get lost in a sea of email."
The emergence of applications for mobile devices is even more apparent in higher education, where many colleges and universities have embraced the use of apps, and some have even developed their own.
Central Texas College developed its own application for mobile phones, which helps students manage their courses. At Texas A&M University-Central Texas, many of the courses' syllabi include directions on how to access an app for Tutor.com, which provides online tutoring services to students.
The University of Phoenix, which has a branch campus in Killeen, debuted its own app in April 2011, which allows students to participate in their online classes via an iPhone or iPad.
"In regards to the apps themselves, I see more school developing their own, increasing in higher education and filtering down to more elementary and high schools said Martinez.
Martinez cited rumors that Apple may be announcing a partnership to develop textbooks for their popular iPad.
"It would change the face of education," said Martinez. "You would be looking at digital learning in nearly every single classroom."
Apple's media department would not comment on the rumors.