Spoiler alert!Geo Walk HD is one of a long series of applications that promises to educate your kids when books and school fail them—in this case taking on the impossible subject of geography. The app is slick, the content good. But expecting a three dollar app to grab the interest of kids who would rather kill zombies is like scratching a lottery ticket and expecting your ship to come in.
Maybe I was a little harsh with that spoiler alert. Geo Walk HD costs three dollars and delivers its value in edutainment. Edutainment is my term for the belief that kids will learn if you only make learning fun. If this sounds like one of those cynical terms meant to deride, like “feminazi” or “obamacare,” you would be only half right.
Education should never be boring, but we labor under the mistaken assumption that educational solutions are one size fits all when the sad truth is education requires more sizes than dresses. Throw entertainment into the mix and it becomes infinitely more complicated. My entertainment is Carol’s Three Stooges, a laugh fest for me but dumb, dumberer and more dumberest for her.
The same goes for students. I was a witty and entertaining teacher. To maybe half my students. Others thought me arrogant and the rest just slept through class. I also saw a lot of educational software promising to be just the ticket to edutain students. Half those apps appealed to one or two students, some did the job for a few dozen students and a few met with the same blank stares I got when I talked about the joys of self-enlightenment.
I also used to lament those awful fifty pound textbooks kids have to carry around packed with so many illustrations, sidebars and charts that students would have an impossible time finding a focus. Then Carol told me how much she loved reading those books with such interesting pictures and as much information as she could possibly ask for.
Far be it from me to say what will edutain your kid and what won’t, but I still think it’s a crap shoot.
Which brings us back to Geo Walk HD. Carol’s a sucker for stuff like this; she loves maps and geography. One of her favorite things in the world is to go on Google Maps while I’m writing then hand me her Mac and say, “Phillip, we can see our house from here.” If you read Tuesday’s post, you also know she would consider it fiscally irresponsible to pay good money for a geography app, but if I were to download it for the blog, she could enjoy it with no sense of guilt.
Geo Walk HD is no Google Maps, but it works with a similar metaphor—following maps for info. You have two options, following photo threads (called “picture flow”) or spinning a virtual globe while exploring factoid windows that pop up to deliver information about plants, animals, culture or well-known people.
Of the two, the globe spin search makes more sense (and fits the Google Maps metaphor ever so slightly). I have no idea how the photos in the picture flow are connected. One thread included Everest, the bison, Napoleon Bonaparte, Isabella of Castille and piglet squids. The information flow seems as random as most of the material my teachers fed me in high school (before I got to college and learned that education can be useful).
You can browse using the picture flow method or by spinning the globe for factoids. Of the two methods, the globe spinning seems to make more sense.
You also have the option of restricting the information available by showing or hiding biographical factoids as well as information about places, plants or animals. The app also provides a quiz section which is far more about learning than getting the right answer.
The quiz section focuses far more on discovering information than getting the right answer. If you explore the possible suggestions, you will find your own solution.
The interface is gorgeous, almost stunningly so, and this is the strongest recommendation I have for Geo Walk HD. Rather than trying to throw a host of features into the app, the developers focused on two or three key elements and hired the designers who would provide the punch.
The amount of information is limited, perhaps by design, to about five hundred entries. This allows users to explore the entries without an internet connection. This could also keep the information down to a digestible limits. I do think students can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information the school systems throw at them.1
I like Geo Walk HD. I think it’s slick and works well. For students who want to learn and who like eye candy, this could very well help keep them interested enough to outline a report or start their research for a PowerPoint slideshow. But I have nephews who make me think this will never distract them from Plants vs Zombies.
Jenny Manytoes rates Geo Walk HD
Jenny Manytoes would take a nap next to Geo Walk HD, which actually makes it sound worse than it is. For what it does, it deserves four stars at least. From a developer’s perspective, it’s pretty close to a five star app and it would make a good model for iPad interface design classes. I just can’t help but think more parents will like it than students.
1If you’ve ever actually looked at the lists of state requirements for mastery of any high school class (and I worked with them for years as a curriculum developer) you might begin to understand why kids tune out. The lists of requirements for what students should remember from each class are hundreds of items long. Here was an item from middle school geography (I don’t remember which state): “Students should be able to discuss the Vietnamese agricultural revolution and how it affected geopolitical reforms in the region.”
If your kid really masters everything on those lists, then, no, you are not smarter than an eighth grader.
Who comes up with the lists? The state educational agencies consult with PhDs in a given field to decide what secondary students need to know, even though half their college students never remember the material past the tests.
I think the legislators who approve these standards should be required to pass a test showing their mastery of the material. Especially the tea party members who only remember, “Goverment are bad. Taxes two. Unions hurted business. America is exeptionul,” back