Review English Grammar in Use Activities app

English Grammar in Use - CUP

Review date 7/11/2010

Name

English Grammar in Use Activities (Viney & Craven)

Published by

Cambridge University Press

iTunes url

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/english-grammar-in-use-activities/id351829786?mt=8

Version

1.2 (10/09/2010)

Published

Jan 2010 (approx)

Updates since launch

Yes

Platform:

iPhone/ iPod iOS 3 or later.

Review platform:

iPod iOS 4

Live connection required?

No

Price

£5.99

Standalone

To be used in conjunction with English Grammar in Use Intermediate

Other

Target audience

Learners of English as a foreign or second language at intermediate (B1) level and above

Overall

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

It is no accident that the English Grammar in Use series of books have been such an international success: comprehensive, user friendly, reliable, accessible (different levels and often available in local language versions) and flexible (clasroom and self study versions, CD-ROM adjunct since 2004). Does this app match up to the achievements of its illustrious family? Unfortunately not, on most counts. “Lots of potential but could do better” is the report on this one.

Navigation is complicated and takes up too much of the screen. The content only works in vertical mode and avoids native iOS interactivity types. Usability and learning design is a concern. The nature of the content makes this more suitable for the screen size of a bigger touch device. The adaptation to such a small screen doesn’t work for some of the content with usabilty of half the exercise types ranges from tricky to difficult.

There have also been issues with reliablity: problems with crashing as well as the key audio content not working. The audio now works on the review version – patched with the latest version though though crashes were still frequent. Helpfully this tended to happen when leaving the main content to consult help. Again, on reliability, this app was released with serious bugs (much of the audio didn’t work) and it took many months to fix this.

Design / usabilty

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Navigation is overly complicated. On entering a particular grammar category e.g. Present Perfect , the orientation section called “What can I practise here?” is nearly hidden and the user is implicitly directed to select one of the sections below. Even then the user can be distracted through the presentation of sub options for a choice they haven’t made yet.

As a default, the main content has five navigation or functionality bar: section heading; subsection heading, instructions bar, exercise preferences and general app navigation. These cannot be collapsed and clicking on the instructions tab obscures most of the remainder of the screen. This is presumably why the content doesn’t rotate to work in wide screen. Better design would have restricted these to no more than three bars. If the content were reorganised, this could be reduced further to take proper advantage of the medium (widescreen).

The use of images is a positive as is the generally colourful layout. However, it continues to feel like content insufficiently adapted for the small screen. Icons, including audio are just too small. The app can be slow meaning the audio takes a while to respond.

Content

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Given the content it is based on, it is probably fair to assume that the app has few peers in terms of range, depth, quality and quantity.

One quibble would relate to what you get for your money. You can see if CUP’s remit was to have an ELT app ‘out there’, this was a good place to start and it appears to be complementary and in Publisherland 2010, £6 is not a large amount of money for an electronic title. In Appworld, that is a lot and users won’t see this as a complementary app. Indeed, there are several comments on iTunes to the effect that more overview and explanations should be included instead of “Check with the book”.

Functionality

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The list of functionality is beyond a ‘mere’ grammar reference: listen to soond recordings of all exercises (shame than many didn’t work for nine months until the current version was issued); record and listen to your own pronunciation and audio notes; track progress; look up words. Aside from the nice-to-have (audio notes), these are good features. Trackability is fine though it is unclear what happens to ‘completed’ data should the user suffer a crash.

The general issue is the basic interface and interactivity modes prevent the user from appreciating the background features.

Learning design

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

There is a useful help section. However, it shouldn’t be necessary to consult this if the functionality is obvious, intuitive or properly explained ad hoc.

The ‘What can I practise here?’ section is in principle a useful idea. There are several limitations. Firstly, it is nearly hidden. See ‘Design’ above. Secondly, having found and used it, the feedback seems orientated towards where the user should go in the book if they need to know more. It is not as easy as it should be to jump to the relevant section within the app (neecd to go back and scroll down to ‘select exercise’).

There are four exercise or interactivity types: gapfill, tap to move, multiple choice & error correction. The first two are very fiddly. With ‘Tap to move’, it is difficult to make an accurate selection from the crowded options box. This really isn’t what the iPhone/iPod revolution is all about. Multiple choice comes in two versions and works better. In the version used with gaps in longer texts, the possible answers aren’t presented adjacent to the gap but at the top forcing the user to scroll up. Error correction involves spotting the mistake by tapping one of several underlined options. Text crowding notwithstanding, it is a useful exercise type.

Trackability means work is marked as completed and a list can be accessed. For future editions it would be nice to hyperlink back to the content for review.

Glossary The glossary is problematic due to the amount of text on screen but the feature is usable.

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