Tag Team Tech October 2014

App Smashing

Joyce Kasman Valenza

Lately when I think about how I am going to accomplish a digital task, I find that I automatically consider the task Valenza 1as a staged, creative process–a process that makes me dig into my digital toolkit or canvas my digital palette to discover new synergies.

Be it a research project or a digital story, these days, it takes more than one app or web tool to effectively accomplish a complicated or creative task.  So, whether you are using them on your laptop, your tablet or your phone, it’s important to know, and to know how to guide others, in smashing a few good apps.

Valenza 2Our library school training taught us a lot about collection development, but it did not anticipate a relatively new, related need–the need to help our customers, member, students–by curating and presenting collections of high-quality, useful apps and tools, and by helping them create their own personal toolkits, palettes or catalogs.  These new types of collections will allow them easily find the apps or sites needed to creatively blend or smash apps and sites.

Roughly defined, app smashing refers to the act of using multiple digital tools, or apps, to achieve a creative goal.  The term is generally attributed to Greg Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec) of the EdTech Teacher blog, who explains and demonstrates the concept in this video:

Intro to App-Smashing from misterkling on Vimeo.

So you might take a bunch of photos on your iPad during a field trip. You might import those photos into an image editor for cropping, filters or effects.  You might then import those images into digital storytelling tool like iMovie, WeVideo, or Explain Everything for video editing and annotating.  Then, you might curate those videos on platforms like LessonPaths, YouTube, your Wiki or Moodle, or perhaps share them on a ThingLink interactive image or use them as an augmented reality element on a platform like layar or Aurasma.  Finally, the project might be shared with appropriate communities using Twitter hashtags.

Michelle Luhtala, head librarian at New Canaan High School interviewed a number of librarians and teachers for her There’s an App For That  edWeb Webinar in May. The collected videos described the creative ways these professionals are smashing apps to achieve instructional goals.

Valenza 3

From the There’s an App For That Webinar http://home.edweb.net/theres-app-50-apps-will-rock-world-60-minutes/

As librarians, who are, of course, resource, information and technology scouts, app smashing presents a new challenge. We have new skills to master, teach and model. We cannot smash apps until we learn about promising options and their affordances, emerging genres, how apps might play happily together, and how we can leverage their synergies to address students’ learning needs and interests, and what containers are available for us to present them.  We have new reviews to read. We have new containers to curate.

My Symbaloo App Index webmix

 Valenza 4

For years, our pathfinders and guides blended resources, instruction, advice and content to support learning, research and readers’ advisory.  Our pathfinder skills translate well to an educational landscape that is continually bombarded by hundreds of potentially worthy apps for learning and communicating what we’ve learned.

In my mind, a new, and critical element of our mission as librarians is development of much needed new types of collections–the curating of apps to meet the needs of specific grades, projects, classes, teachers and general interests.

Some compelling arguments for professional app smashing:

  • Our engagement in this activity ensures our schools and libraries ROI for tablets and maximizes parents’ investments in personal devices.
  • Our engagement in this activity ensures that devices our students carry both their libraries and their librarians in their pockets.
  • Our engagement in this type of curatorial activity models for our stakeholders emerging skill sets that all professionals need to conduct business or learning in digital environments.
  • Our engagement in this activity helps prepare folks to efficiently and authentically manage workflow and what’s now called personal knowledge management (PKM).
  • Students and teachers need help creating dashboards/launchpads: resources that gather the content, tools and applications they need to organize their own learning landscapes.
  • Students and teachers need help creating playlists: tools that sequence learning resources across media types and makes them available on handy, embeddable, sharable platforms.
  • Students and teachers need help creating their own PLEs (personal learning environments): learner-centered systems that help users access the content and tools they need to manage their knowledge building, their communication, their productivity, and their work flow.
  • Public and academic librarians can embed their efforts in their guides in the form of sequenced tutorials and menus.
  • All of these activities serve to support learner/user agency.  (In the 2009 video, Welcome to My PLE, a 7th grade student in Wendy Drexler’s class, confidently discusses the value of her own own curation efforts.  It continues to resonate with me.)

Why share this concept with young people?

App smashing is a creative process in itself, perhaps a new digital literacy.  School and public librarians can facilitate it by recognizing its value and modeling it as a thoughtful process.

App smashing encourages learners to:

  • curate their own dashboards of options–to begin to manage their own information worlds
  • understand app categories/genres and affordances
  • play, experiment, make, and be on the look out for new discoveries
  • understand new notions of workflow
  • recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts–that one app or platform on its own may not magically serve every need
  • push themselves to create seriously original work in ways never before possible

App smashing inspires creativity and agency.

There are many ways to approach facilitation of app smashing.  I’ve chosen to curate a dashboard of tools in genre categories.  But it would also be convenient to have a menu of options for very specific tasks, like the menu to support sixth grade writing Shannon Miller created.

However we try to do it, it is clear to me that our review reading has to extend beyond books and movies–that we need to also keep up with the content young people carry in their pockets.

Though I am not sure the app smashing is the right metaphor, and I kind of like the notion of blending a palette or creating menus, dashboards and toolkits, there’s one thing I am not confused about.  Whether we smash, or blend, or help others discover best tools, the need exists for librarians to organize and curate apps.  It is a skill that will showcase our agility, our digital leadership, our stewardship.

Valenza 5


Valenza 6

My Pinterest board of Library QR codes led students in our library to strategies for carrying our collection and our recommended tools in their pockets.

Digital Storytelling Options webmix http://edu.symbaloo.com/mix/digitalstorytellin g66

Resources for curating apps for smashing

For inspiration, try a Pinterest search or search the hashtags #appsmash or #appsmashing.

Michelle Luhtala’s There’s an app for that EdWeb webinar.  (Slides are also available.)

Selected worthy platforms for curating apps and web tools

edshelf, offers both rich reviews of apps and sites and flexibility platform options for sharing and embedding

Symbaloo create a visually simply dashboard, or a network of dashboards that mimic app icons.

Pinterest allows for the collaborative creation of boards

Lesson Paths: creates sequenced, annotated playlists

Blendspace: gathers and allows for annotation of tiles from web and media elements to present an embeddable start page.

Learnist: creates embeddable, annotated sequenced lists

LibGuides: this highly popular professional curation space can be used to curate apps as well as links and media.

Gibbon: allows users to collect & share articles, links, books and videos or paths of resources in a learning flow.

List.ly: offers users ability to independently or collaboratively create lists (like the top ten web-based movie editors).  Lists may be embedded, tagged, crowd-ranked, and shared.

Readlists: allows users to create groups of web pages, displayed and bundled as a simple lists

ZEEF: allows users to curated and categorize link directories.

Note:  You can also smash curation platforms.  For instance, LibGuides might serve as a parking lot into which you can drive (or embed) curations you created on other platforms.

How to find apps and app reviews

AASL’s 2014 Best Apps for Teaching & Learning: highly selective new annual list chosen by a team of school librarians

edshelf, offers both rich reviews of apps and sites and flexibility platform options for sharing and embedding

CommonSense Media’s Graphite: critically reviewed apps, games, websites

Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools for Learning: An annual crowd-sourced list complied from a survey of 500+ learning professionals in 48 countries

APPitic: App Lists for Education

Teachers with Apps

Here’s a Symbaloo I’ve curated of app discovery tools

Valenza 11

Pinterest boards of app reviews created by TeachersWithApps.

Valenza 8

Valenza 9

My Symbaloo of dashboards http://edu.symbaloo.com/home/mix/13ePBcOPCM

Valenza 10

Shannon Miller’s webmix on Coding-Coding-Coding

Valenza headshot, used with permissionJoyce Kasman Valenza has been a special, public and school librarian, and a library educator. For ten years, she was the techlife@school columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Valenza is the author of Power Tools, Power Research Tools and Power Tools Recharged for ALA Editions. She currently blogs for School Library Journal. Valenza is active in ALA, AASL, YALSA, and ISTE and ALISE. She speaks nationally and internationally about issues relating to libraries and thoughtful use of educational technology. She joins the faculty of Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information in January 2014.  For more information: http://about.me/jvalenza. Contact Valenza at joycevalenza@gmail.com.



  1. Alyson says:

    This is wonderful! I wrote a monthly review of apps in our County Library’s Teen Scene newsletter until recently returning to Youth Services. It was great fun exploring the apps and comparing what was worth mentioning and what was hugely popular with Teens but might have security, content, or technical issues that might need further exploration. Staff awareness of what is available and popular in the app market was a goal, so staff could begin to help Teens curate their collection.

Leave a Reply