App-ol-o-gist: a person who studies and researches mobile apps for the purposes of education and workforce training. You may not have heard of this term, and that’s because it was originated to describe exactly what Melton does for a living. Melton was hired in 2000 to start the Tennessee Board of Regents’ (TBR) statewide collaborative for online programs and services (Regents Online Degree Programs or RODP). This was no simple undertaking, considering TBR is the sixth-largest system in the nation, consisting of Tennessee’s 6 state universities, 13 community colleges and 26 technology centers.
It started when Melton noticed students using mobile devices to access online classes as well as an increase in students with access to a mobile device. This observation led Melton to research the use of mobile devices and apps for educational tools. “I’m on a mission to prove that these devices and apps can place a new type of interaction and excitement, literally, in the hands of every person,” says Melton. Because students were already bringing their preferred personal device to school, Melton determined that as educators, staff could not afford to miss this opportunity. “We must recognize the impact and capabilities of these devices beyond basic communication and playing games. These devices are so powerful, people are using them to diagnose eye diseases and skin cancer, and to access a wealth of resources on demand,” says Melton.
When Melton first started researching, studying and making educational apps available to faculty and staff 8 years ago, she had about 30 apps to offer - now she has more than 60,000 for students from pre-K all the way through workforce development. The apps are aligned to more than 80 program areas, which can be found in Melton’s online app center, www.Appapedia.org. Due to the growing demand for peer-reviewed mobile and classroom applications, Melton, on behalf of TBR, partnered with an open source online repository for faculty to review mobile apps. Educators now have access to a rubric, standards and professional development to help them incorporate the apps into their teaching.
The use of mobile devices and apps have had a significant impact on education in the state. For instance, Walter State Community College (WSCC), an education institution with a proactive vision for technology, contacted Melton to assist in developing a strategic plan for mobile devices and apps for teaching, learning and operations. WSCC collaborated with Melton to demonstrate the effectiveness of using devices and apps for education at the college level. Starting with one tablet, WSCC developed a campus-wide strategic plan and now has more than 1,500 mobile devices available for faculty and staff. Additionally, the campus deployed student mobile devices and apps aligned to programs, curriculum and outcomes. Faculty members use apps in nearly every subject. Since WSCC started using mobile devices and apps, it has realized a significant increase in student learning and engagement, not to mention innovative teaching practices. Additionally, WSCC has been selected for awards such as the Apple Distinguished Campus Program, which led to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology's (TCAT's) first system-wide mobilization and app initiative for workforce development.
Having been in the education market for more than 48 years, Melton has seen the learning experience evolve - beginning her career during a time when computers didn’t exist and now serving as a pioneer in educational mobile apps. She uses this experience when training educators who may be in the same boat. “I often familiarize them with apps that may benefit them personally - first on devices they are comfortable with, which is usually their current phone,” she says. “And once you show them what their current phone can do to enhance education, it creates a new level of on-demand engagement and interaction.”
Melton credits her success for this state- and system-wide achievement to a visionary chancellor and supportive education leaders and staff. “It was our progressive chancellor who saw the impact mobility would have on teaching and learning and knew we needed to take a more formal approach,” says Melton. It is because of this forward thinking that the Office of Mobilization and Emerging Technology was born. To this day, Tennessee is the only system of higher education that has established a system-wide office and strategic plan for mobilization and emerging technologies with the sole purpose of focusing on the use of devices and apps as effective teaching, learning and workforce tools.