Using apps on your tablet or cell phone is fast and convenient, and they provide access to your personal data as well as to specific information related to a specific topic. But should you use paid apps with your students? Paid apps definitely have advantages, and there are examples where a $10 app can replace a $100 scientific calculator. But can you get a free app that replaces that same $100 calculator? Most often the answer is yes.
Whenever possible, choose free apps when working with your students. There are thousands of free educational apps, and many of them are VERY good. They might not be perfect, but they should be close enough - and aren't the free app still better than what your class was using a year ago?
Paid apps become a barrier for many students, teachers, and school districts. There are three inter-related reasons you should try to use only free apps: access, example, and finances.
Your online classroom should be available to all students - your students sitting in your class, other students in your school who are not fortunate enough to have you as your teacher, the students across the country who have Internet access but do not have teachers who place any of their materials online, and every kid throughout the world who can find your site when they search on Google. You are not teaching 25 students - you are teaching all students. Those kids need access to your classroom, your materials and your assignments. Paid apps prevent access if a student cannot pay for them.
Free apps are available to anyone and any school district. By eliminating cost you allow other teachers to mimic what you do in class regardless of their school's budget and allows your classroom to be an example for other teachers to follow. At the district level, creating a one-to-one program that only uses free apps allows other districts to follow your example and move to a one-to-one environment.
Your school district might be able to buy apps for your students this year, but what is the long-term cost of purchased apps? We have over 3,000 incoming freshman in our district. If we spent just $10 per student on apps, we would have to pay $30,000 annually just in apps. Yes, you can probably save money elsewhere like lower printing costs or reduced textbook purchases. But those savings went towards purchasing the devices - not the apps. It is important for teachers to help protect the finances of the district, especially when trying to create a cost-neutral one-to-one program.