Would You Like to Phone a Friend?

How in-app peer-to-peer connections could impact edtech.

GUEST COLUMN | by Scott Weiner

CREDIT RevTwoImagine if educators and students could connect directly to each other within a mobile app, in real-time, as they need help with a difficult problem. Could the ability to ask for and receive help the moment you need it transform and accelerate the use of educational apps? Innovations in technology today are making it possible for app developers to more easily build in-app peer-to-peer (P2P) support features into their apps. I set out to learn if in-app P2P support could fill a gap in edtech, and talked to education and

If a student is stuck on an assignment within a learning app, they could request help from another student who could see their screen and walk them through a solution. 

technology experts on how they see this kind of real-time accessibility being applied and what it might mean for the future of edtech.

Educational value in real-time, in-app peer-to-peer connections

If a student is stuck on an assignment within a learning app, they could request help from another student who could see their screen and walk them through a solution. In a world where students are increasingly used to always-on, always-connected environments, in-app support could provide “…tutoring, mentoring, exactly when a student needs it,” says Katherine Page Burdick, an edtech content consultant.

The real-time support model could address challenges educators face when working with students remotely, such as explaining a difficult assignment to students without visual cues. Katie Chirhart, a teacher and editor of teacherswithapps.com, gave the example of literature: “I can see this [P2P support] being a real benefit for students seeking help translating difficult words and passages.”

In-app P2P connections could provide support to teachers mastering a technology. Imagine you’re a fifth grade science teacher with a space discovery application that you want to use in the classroom. With one tap on your phone, you can connect with an expert, who can view your mobile app live, and walk you through crafting a lesson plan around the app. “In my experience, the use of technology is severely underutilized in education. This is due in part to a lack of [support] resources,” said Burdick.

And there would be benefits outside the classroom. Parents who work long hours may be unable to sit at the kitchen table and help their child with math homework. But during a coffee break, with the touch of a button, they could see the actual algebra problem their child is struggling to understand and not only help them, but feel engaged in their learning process while being remote.

Addressing P2P’s potential challenges

While the benefits of real-time P2P interaction could be helpful, there are also potential challenges. For example, could in-app communications enable cheating? Probably no more than texting, Snapchat or any other screen-capture software encouraging this behavior. Regardless, it’s a good reminder for developers in edtech to consider and control what aspects of their application can be shared.

There is also the concern of safety and privacy. Applications that enable communities of users to help each other would need to restrict access so children are only interacting with their classmates or other “safe” groups. Any mobile application developed for children in edtech needs to consider privacy regulations like COPPA and FERPA.

Teachers are also strapped for time, especially after school when a student is most likely doing homework and needing support. Developers could enable an office hours feature so teachers can control schedules and set the times they’re available for instant help. Parents would probably like this feature as well since always-on while at work may not be appropriate.

The opportunity for P2P connections in edtech looks promising. Through my conversations with industry experts, it’s clear that there is a need for these kinds of real-time interactions, but there are challenges that should be addressed. Once issues are addressed by developers, in-app P2P support could help teachers, motivate students and engage parents. Eric Palson, director of the Academic Technology Innovation Center at Babson College summed it up nicely: “Technologies that help students create their own path for learning, while still engaging in the community that the classroom setting provides will have the most impact in our future.”

As a technologist who sees the connected, mobile future our children are inheriting, and as a parent and an advocate of education, I can’t wait to see what new solutions our mobile edtech developers bring to market in the not too distant future. What do you think will come next?

Scott Weiner is a CTO/Senior Consultant at NeuEon, Inc. helping companies plan and execute their software product visions. Scott is also on the board of advisors at RevTwo, a startup making in-app support human and collaborative.

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One Response to Would You Like to Phone a Friend?

  1. Scott, great article. Another way to use P2P can be to encourage collaborative play within an app environment within the classroom. I tried this with my app Tap Tangram however it’s invisibility within the App Store got in the way of my getting any real sense of whether this feature (which was a large part of the development) would actually be seen as useful. I think there’s a lot of potential, but it will require education of the educators.

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