So here’s an interesting idea. What if you could use mobile apps in the classroom without actually having any mobile/tablet devices? Well, you can, thanks to BlueStacks. With the BlueStacks App Player you can run a huge number of Android apps on your Mac or PC, and right now, you can try it for free.
It’s an interesting proposition, and one that could have some very real advantages for the classroom. In theory, you get the best of both worlds – access to a huge and growing app store, and the power and flexibility of a desktop/laptop computer when you need it. You could even run these apps on an interactive whiteboard, and interact with them in almost the exact same way you would on an Android tablet.
How does it work? Right now, there are four app stores that you can search through for apps of your choice. You can browse the app stores themselves, or search for an app title across all four stores and choose where you want to download it from. Apps are added to a central dashboard area (see pic above) and can be launched from there after they have been installed on your computer. Do all apps work? No. Snapseed, for instance, did not install properly for me, but many other apps I tried like Evernote, Zite, Twitter, Pulse, and…yes…even Angry Birds Star Wars, worked just fine! 🙂 I didn’t perform an exhaustive test of available apps, but it looks like most of the well known ones you could want would likely be able to run on the BlueStacks App Player.
So, by now you are probably starting to get interested, maybe even wondering how you can sign up. Well, you absolutely can at the BlueStacks website, but I would be remiss if I did not add a word of caution. In theory, this could be a great thing for educators, but right now, it is more of a proof of concept than anything else. BlueStacks is in Beta. It is currently free for anyone who wants to test their innovative creation, but you do so at your own risk.
The apps themselves can be a little frustrating. Unlike the iOS App Store, many Android apps are simply not designed for large screens. Many are still optimized for a smartphone display, so they can be just plain awkward to use in their skinny, rectangular aspect ratio on the BlueStacks App Player. Some can be forced into a tablet sized view, via the settings, but others stubbornly refuse or crash when you try this.
There is also the issue of media. If you have an app like the Aviary Photo Editor, and you want to edit some photos you have on your computer, it is not as simple as just clicking browse and finding the photos you need. There is some behind the scenes work that needs to be done to achieve this, but like I said earlier, this app is still in Beta, so the developers will still be working out some kinks and improving the user interface as they go.
A final issue for education would be management. If this app was to be used in a school that was 1:1 with Macbooks or PC laptops, the school IT department would want some way of enforcing restrictions, and a way to push out apps to students and staff. This is not currently an option, and may never be an option.
BlueStacks is a very enticing idea. It looks like it could open the doors to a much more open and flexible learning environment in the classroom, but right now it remains to be seen how stable, reliable, and easy to use it really could be in the classroom with students. Have you tried it? Do you think you would use it? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.