What’s APPropriate: Using iTunes to Find Gems for Your Students in the App Store

I am still bubbling over with ideas and enthusiasm following the fabulous Inclusive Learning Technologies conference last week! What an amazing collection of people, presentations and technology.

I promised a few people who were unable to get into the “What’s APPropriate: Using iTunes to Find Gems for Your Students in the App Store” session that I would blog about it soon – providing links to information and resources discussed during the session. I know this is going to be a long blog – so here goes!


The iTunes store contains a smorgasbord of resources for people working in special education – as well as many other resources not specifically designed for our area that we can nevertheless access and use. To get access to the iTunes store, you need to download iTunes from Apple. Once you have downloaded iTunes you can use the iTunes store to download Apps – and also music, movies, etc.


Apps are just one of the things which you can download from the iTunes store – it’s important to know, though, that Apps can only be played on your iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad. On your computer, in iTunes, you can only look at a listing of them.

However, despite that, there is lots that the iTunes software on your Mac or PC lets you do! You can play music through your computer or sync it onto your iPod. You can download and listen to a Podcast. For those who are unsure about Podcasts – a Podcast is a series of media files released as episodes. You can subscribe to a Podcast and get each new episode as it is released. There are some Podcasts in our area that you might be interested in – AT Tipscast is one. Check out the list of Podcasts yourself as this is always being added to. You might also want to subscribe to the Glee Podcast and listen to interviews with your favourite characters – there are so many Podcasts there is sure to be something you (and your students) are interested in! It’s worth pointing out that some Podcasts are audio only – and can be listened to on your computer or on any type of iPod. Some of them also include video and these cannot be used on the iPod shuffle.

The iTunes Store also allows us access to iTunesU. I won’t go into this in detail – but there are a number of tertiary institutions who are now distributing information to students through this format. Some of them, such as Trinity College in Dublin, are providing information for all their students on how to access inclusive resources, such as Texthelp Read and Write. Other educational organizations are providing lecture material through iTunesU. Like the Podcasts this is an area of constant expansion – so check it out to see what is on offer.

It’s also important to know that Podcasts and iTunesU offerings are free!

In addition to the Apps, Podcasts and iTunesU, the iTunes Store is also a place to download (and pay for) for music, movies, TV shows and audio books. It’s important, when talking about education, to acknowledge the importance of these resources as well. An audio book of a class novel can be such a great resource – as can a great dramatisation of a book. These can be invaluable to students with learning difficulties and can be a great learning opportunity for all students.

And most of the content above – music, movies, TV shows, audio books, Podcasts and iTunesU lessons – can also play on your iPod. The iPod Nano, iPod Classic, iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad can all play all of these resources. The iPod shuffle can play many things – but can’t manage anything which includes video as it doesn’t have a screen.

Having said all of that – let’s get back to the topic of Apps.

App store

There are a large number of Apps on the iTunes Store (or in the App Store). Apps run on an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad. You can download them through the iTunes store and then sync them across to your iPod touch etc. For instructions on how to sync an App you can go to http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1977.

The biggest feedback from people is how hard it is to pick an App that is appropriate. We are told there are over 300,000 apps on the store – and there are Apps for everything. There are games, Apps for mobile banking and checking flight schedules and Apps for ordering your pizza. There are Apps which let you rate and recommend restaurants to other people who own the App. There are Apps for art, for maths, for literacy, for music – and the list goes on.

Luckily many Apps are free – which allows you to try them and then decide if they suit your needs. Some of the paid Apps have a “lite” version – with cut down features – which is also free. This lets you try before you buy! Some of the free Apps we looked at in this session were:

  • Dictionary.com.au – a free version of the Macquarie dictionary
  • Seb’s Tail Lite – an excellent talking book from NZ which includes the option of having it read in Maori
  • Times Tables Free – you can probably guess what that does!
  • Stanza – a great ebook reader which includes links to thousands of free ebooks
  • Baby Sign lite – a cute App which provides a basic group of Auslan signs

And some of the paid Apps we looked at included:

  • TapSpeak Button – turn your iPod touch into a single message device – and easily swap between recordings
  • SpeakIt! – a great text-to-speech App which can be used for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) – but also for reading text out for people with learning disabilities.
  • My Pictures Talk – which allows you to create great talking photo albums or schedule
  • Proloquo2Go – a very comprehensive AAC App

We spent some time finding and downloading Apps – and then went on to discussing how to pick the App for you!

In my opinion, this is the hardest part of the process since there are so many available and the write ups on the App Store don’t always reflect the quality of the App itself. A good idea is to check the reviews before buying an App – click on the link to the App and the scroll down to see what others think of it.

And since it is so hard to pick an App we then finished with some of the online resources which can help you with this process.

First of all was the excellent list compiled by Eric Sailers which I have modified for Australia. You can download this from http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/library/general-articles

Second was the list compiled by Carolann Cormier which she shared on the QIAT listserv. You can download this list from http://www.connsensebulletin.com/2010/05/apps-for-education/. This may include some Apps which are not available in the Australian iTunes store or which are not appropriate for Australia (e.g. American Sign Language).

Third was the document released by Apple which is a guide on using the iPod touch for teaching and learning. You can find this at http://images.apple.com/education/docs/Apple-iPodGettingStartedGuide081809.pdf

And finally we discussed some of the App review websites which include an Educational Apps category:

AppShopper http://appshopper.com/

AppStoreHQ http://www.appstorehq.com/

Apptism http://www.apptism.com/

Best App Ever Awards http://bestappever.com

IEducation Apps Review http://www.iear.org/

Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs iPhone App Round Up http://teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com/2009/06/ipod-touchiphone-app-round-up-for-users.html

Online Education Database http://oedb.org/library/features/top_50_iphones_for_educators

And as the final word of all – Jessica from Apple mentioned another online resource in this area which is starting soon. Once she has let us know the details of this we will share it with you.

I hope you found this useful – and I apologise for it being such a long entry!

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About Jane Farrall

Jane has been working in the disability and assistive technology field for over 20 years. She has extensive practical experience in both Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and in teaching children and adults with disabilities to acquire literacy.

Jane has worked as a school and adult service based therapist and literacy teacher. She has also worked as an assistive technology specialist at both ComTEC and at Spectronics and is currently working as an independent consultant in literacy, AAC and Assistive Technology.

She has completed a Masters in Special Education focusing on literacy acquisition in children and adults without speech. Jane is a former Chairperson of AGOSCI (Australian Group on Severe Communication Impairment) and is the founder and organiser of the Big Mouth Camp, a camp for school aged students using speech generating devices and their families. You can get more information about Jane at her website www.janefarrall.com.

3 Responses to What’s APPropriate: Using iTunes to Find Gems for Your Students in the App Store

  1. Jane Farrall says:

    Hi all,

    I’ve heard from Jessica at Apple that the group she mentioned is at http://treetops.org.au/groups/. This is a Wiki on Accessibility on Apple products.

  2. Jon says:

    Thanks for the very useful links.
    I recommend the text to speech software Panopreter Plus (http://www.panopreter.com), it reads txt files, rtf files, word documents, pdf files and web pages, and converts the text to mp3 and wav files. When running it on Winows 7 or vista, it reads much better with the voice of Microsoft Anna.

  3. Stephen Lansdown says:

    Thank you so much for writing this marvellous blog. It’s given me so many leads to follow up. My father has late-stage Parkinson’s, and we are looking for speech generating software to help him communicate with his family.

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