Friday, June 21, 2013

Review/Appy Chat: ConversationBuilderTeen by Mobile Education Store LLC

ConversationBuilderTeen by Mobile Education Store LLC ( iPad, $29.99 at time of review)  Share Via Twitter

ConversationBuilderTeen is a continuation of its "sibling" app, ConversationBuilder.  The Teen version brings the conversation up to a more mature level. This app covers "tougher" topics such as bullying and relationships- and is definitely appropriate for middle school and high school, although many conversations I have found useful for upper elementary too.  It also has added a much requested feature- players can hear each sentence prior to selecting the correct answer- this means struggling readers can participate more independently too! There are other auditory and visual cues throughout the app- for example, in pictures where there are two or more people having a conversation, there is a small head shot of the speaker above him/ her as a visual cue.  A user can also press a button to hear the previous piece of a conversation too, or tap the "history" button to see the conversation displayed in speech bubbles.  This conversation format really appeals to our tech-savvy kids as it mimics "texting". 

The language is more sophisticated and prior to using this app it is important to go over some of the vocabulary used when an explanation is given- what is rude, what is informal versus formal, what is sarcasm, and how do we change our voice tone / body language etc. when we are being sarcastic, versus when we are genuinely interested in something or someone.

 One issue with teaching conversation is how much context dictates what we say and do. As we all know, the appropriate thing to say can vary so much - age, sex, ,culture, religion, even geography factor in- when I was growing up what was "cool" was considered "wicked" on the east coast and now we have a whole new set of words. Because of these subtleties, what is helpful to one person may actually cause ridicule for someone else. I think ConversationBuilderTeen does a pretty good job of addressing this by choosing neutral language, and topics that are relevant to most teens. My kids have not objected to any of the material, but there are a few conversations where I would have liked to tweak the language slightly to make it more appropriate for our situation.

  As other reviewers have had this experience, I do think it would make sense to have some way to edit or select cards to be used other than just having to skip over them. (Currently you just press a Skip button when the conversation is first presented to you) Perhaps there could be a master list of all conversations, and users could check or uncheck the conversations they wanted to include. I would also love to record my own explanations for why a response is correct, inappropriate or unusual- so that I can tailor the language in away each specific student might understand better. I also wouldn't mind having a print out of the scripts for the conversations to use for acting out scenarios on our own.
There are currently eight different modules in the app- Bullying, Summer, Entertainment, Sports, Sarcasm, Relationships, School- these modules can be turned on/off or mixed together in Randomize mode; there is also a pass code setting for more sensitive conversations.  I very much appreciate this "Parental Control" feature where I can exclude topics such as sex, (also bullying)- this gives me peace of mind in an educational setting.  My favorite module is "Sarcasm". This is often such a difficult concept for our kids to understand- this shows them sample conversations that can be used for further discussion.  I like that the teen voices are full of expression, as tone is so important in conveying what we mean.  Conversations can be used as a basis for acting out scenes, showing how the conversation might go if a more "unusual" response was chosen instead of the more socially acceptable comment.

To play, you select the module/modules of conversation to focus on and the app will walk you through each step of the conversation. First you are presented with a picture and asked to choose the best way to start the conversation by choosing the most logical response from a field of three choices. You can also touch the "Info" tab at the top to get a synopsis of the conversation and choose to skip to a new picture/conversation at this point. When you touch a response to select it, there is feedback given on whether the response is appropriate or not. When a correct answer is chosen, the announcer confirms the choice-"That's a good choice, now let's record it!". When an incorrect response is chosen, a narrator will explain why it is not the best choice i.e."Your peer is using sarcasm. Don't take what she is saying literally. A good way to respond to a sarcastic question is to make a sarcastic statement back." Or "It's best not to admit to a bully that you understand they are being mean; try again") or "That response is too formal, try a less formal one"

As you play there are options to replay the last piece of conversation to help you, or you can replay what has just been recorded before moving on to the next piece of conversation.  After you have finished recording the entire conversation, you can play it in its entirety, save it to refer to later and/or email it, or just proceed to the next conversation.  A"progress" button allows you to access saved conversations and view mastery for each conversation at any time.
There is a option for group conversation practice also.  In group mode, a picture is presented, and you must come up with your own responses. You can even add your own photos in group mode, which is a huge plus- as you can create conversations about the most current topics in your students' or child's life . Before playing, you also take a profile picture of each speaker- these pictures will show up on the screen above the conversation image and hold each person's piece of the conversation- tap on each profile picture/ accompanying speech bubble to hear each person's words.

What I Love:
Covers "tougher" topics such as bullying and relationships
Allows these "tougher" topics to be excluded via pass code
Recorded responses for struggling readers; auditory & visual cues to guide user
Conversations are shown in a familiar "texting" format
Allows you to import your own images for customized conversations
Expressive teen voices

Wish List:
Ability to save specific conversation topics to one child's (or one group's) profile -to avoid skipping through conversations that are not relevant for a particular student.
Ability to record own prompts or explanations
Ability to save a group of students as a profile to load in group conversation mode- currently I must load each student one by one before starting a group conversation- typically we would have the same group of students playing together, so this would be a time saver.
Would love print-outs or "scripts" of each conversation for further role-playing.
Appy Chat with Kyle Tompson, President and Founder of Mobile Education Store posted with permission from  The Appy Ladies
My name is Kyle Tomson, and I'm the president of Mobile Education Store. We specialize in apps for speech therapy. I have been developing apps for 4 years, but only full time over the last 12 months. We currently have 11 apps on iTunes that range from basic sentence structure, parts of speech, story telling and narration, sequencing and how to converse with peers.

1) When did you decide to start developing ConversationBuilderTeen? 
I decided to come up with a teen version of ConversationBuilder about two years ago. I have an elementary version of ConversationBuilder which is very popular. I know quite a few people with teens on the spectrum and they had mentioned what a problem their kids were having with social interactions at school. I thought a teen version of Conversation Builder would be something that could really help by letting kids practice real conversations they might have in school, but allow them to practice at home where mistakes aren't held against them.
2) When did you first release this app?
ConversationBuilderTeen was released in November of last year.

3) How long did it take you to develop this app?
ConversationBuilderTeen had a long development process. It took about 15 months. This was due mainly to the conversation writing process. I hired a dozen teens to write the conversations. As teens can have long conversations, it was a lot of content to collate and then record.
4) What is your favorite feature?
My favorite feature is at the very end of the conversation when we interlace all the student recordings with the pre-recordings to create a continuous conversation. We take out all the wrong answers and delays to create a conversation that sounds as it should in realtime. The excitement on the faces of the students (and parents) when they hear themselves have this conversation is priceless.
5) What was the hardest part of developing this app?
The hardest part was keeping track of the sheer number of interactions. Some of these conversations are over 20 legs long, and there are over 300. In all, there are over 4000 audio clips in this app. It proved very difficult to keep track of everything, re-record those that weren't quite right (without accidentally erasing those that were) and make sure we had a good balance of conversations on all subjects and for both sexes!
6) What skills were you hoping to help the end user to develop?
Social skills, specifically how conversations with peer should flow back and forth.
7) What age range would this app most suit?
8) Are any new updates coming soon?
I hope to add the ability to have folks create their own conversations and add them to the list.

9) Do you have any new apps in the works?

I do. I have a series of interactive textbooks coming this summer. There is nothing like these book anywhere on iTunes. I believe they have the ability to transform elementary education. I'm really looking forward to start showing them off next month!

Enter to win a copy of ConversationBuilderTeen below: a Rafflecopter giveaway