Why sociologists should make their own apps

A sociologist who has made her own medical sociology app argues that her colleagues should be making their own apps:

My decision to make an app stemmed from two major reasons. First, I have long been interested in the ways people interact with computer technologies, and have published some research on this in the past.

More recently my interest has turned to health-related apps available for smartphones and tablet computers. I had been researching the various apps available for such purposes and had noted that many apps have been developed for teaching purposes for medical students.

Second, we have mobile digital devices at home that are very popular with my two school-aged daughters. I had noticed the huge number of educational apps that are available for children’s use, from infancy to high-school level. Some Australian high schools, including my older daughter’s school, have acknowledged young people’s high take-up of mobile digital devices and are beginning to advocate that students bring their devices to school and use them for educational purposes during the school day.

The relevance for tertiary-level education appeared obvious. I wondered whether many universities, academic publishers or academics themselves had begun to develop apps. Yet, having searched both the Android and the Apple App Stores using the search term of my discipline, ‘sociology’, I discovered only a handful of apps related to this subject for tertiary students. Nor were there many for other social sciences. There seemed to be a wide-open gap in the market…

My app is very simple. It is text-based only and has no illustrations or graphics, but there is provision for these to be included if the developer so chooses. Apps developed using this particular wizard are only be available for use on Android devices, but having looked at similar app makers for Apple devices I was put off by their more technical nature and the greater expense involved.

In just a couple of hours my app was ready. I had typed in over 25 medical sociology key concepts (for example, social class, discourse, identity, illness narratives, poststructuralism), plus a list of books for further reading, chosen a nice-looking background and paid US$79.00 for the app to appear without ads and to guarantee that it would be submitted to the Android App Store.

Three issues I could see with this:

1. How much demand is there really for such apps? I can’t imagine too many people look for sociology or social science apps. Of course, it is relatively easy to make so it isn’t like tons of time has to be invested in such apps (though there could be a relationship between the time put into an app and how engaging it is).

2. The assumption here is that people want to use these apps for educational purposes. Would this work? Can apps effectively be used for education

3. How much better is making an app than putting together a website?

I’m glad to see more sociologists venturing into new technologies but it is worthwhile to consider the payoffs and how they are really going to be used.

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