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Teaching Tips

Top Tips for Selecting an App for Health Professions Education


By Janet Corral, Helen Macfarlane and Michele Doucette

Mobile or web-based apps hold much promise for health professions education. However, faculty are often surprised at how many considerations are involved with being successful at adopting an app and integrating it into learning experiences.

Administrative Tips

As you review and select an app, consider the following: 

1. Encryption and security appropriateness for health professions contexts (HIPAA and FERPA). If used in clinical settings or if the app has learner data, the app must be reviewed for HIPAA and FERPA compliance.​​​
  • The Office of Information Technology will review and approve apps. You can submit a request through the OIT Help Desk at 303-724-4357.
  • If you will be keeping medical student data, you will also need to complete the Student Data Warehouse Confidential Data record. Contact Helen Macfarlane. 
​​ 2. Cost.  
  • ​​Does the University of Colorado already host or have access to an app that does what you need? Contact Academic Technologies, CU Online help desk or instructional designers in your program. 
  • ​Is it free? Often if an app is free, you (and your data) are the product the app may sell to other parties.
  • Is there a long-term cost? Consider the time and resources you will need to sustain interest in the app, to adapt it to a changing curriculum and to optimize its use in student or resident instruction. Be sure you have the funds to cover the app’s use over multiple years. Innovations in education often take several years before their use is “easy” for the faculty and for the learners.
3. ​Integration with the learning management system (LMS). 

  • ​​​​​​The centrally supported LMS on campus is Instructure Canvas. Canvas was designed for integration, allowing you to add apps to your existing digital curriculum. You can see a number of apps ready for integration with Canvas​ 4. Plan ahead.
  • Give IT 4-8 weeks to adopt and integrate a new tool. Longer timelines may be needed if the tool needs to be reviewed for security compliance or purchased for educational use.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the app in education may require IRB approval prior to using the app with learners.

 Assessing an App’s Educational Value

  • ​Faculty should also assess the depth of educational engagement the app provides. For example:

  • Does the app replace a knowledge-level resource (e.g., an app that has the same content as a textbook)?
  • Does the app allow learners to practice (e.g., practice lab experiments or manipulate anatomy in 3D on a screen)?
  • Does the app allow learners to apply and synthesize information (e.g., virtual patient cases to practice diagnostic reasoning)?

To date, there are no peer-reviewed lists of apps for health professions education. Many sites exist that provide single-person reviews of the utility of an app to a specific career or learning objective. These reviews should always be taken in conjunction with the considerations listed above so that faculty are compliant with HIPAA and FERPA concerns.