Using Apps to Effectively Engage and Assess Students

Posted on Categories Employability Skills, Online Learning Tools & Resources

At a Glance

At the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology (CPI), the HVAC instructor uses various applications (apps) on tablets and cell phones to engage students in their learning, expose them to practical and effective technology tools, and continuously assess their learning.


The HVAC instructor and instructional assistant at CPI use two tablets and HVAC-related apps to better engage, instruct, and assess students. Students use their cell phones and apps related to measurements, calculations, and systems analysis as tools to complete their assignments.

The instructors use the Class DoJo app to evaluate students across five categories (work ethic, work completion, safety performance, professionalism, and teamwork) during each class period. It allows them to create specific assessments tailored to the individual classroom. 

Students are encouraged to use their cell phones to access relevant industry applications such as pressure temperature charts, conversion charts, and unit specification charts. Students are permitted to have their cell phones with them at all times during class to use for research and reference; they are not permitted to text, make calls, or access games. The goal of allowing student access to handheld technology in the classroom is to ensure that students are prepared to enter the workforce and use their cell phones in an appropriate fashion.  Further, the HVAC industry now has many analytical tools that plug into the headphone jack on a cell phone for immediate use at a worksite. The instructors believe that it is imperative that students learn how to best utilize their phones to their advantage as they enter the workforce. The instructors also make sure to educate students about responsible use of cell phones both in the classroom setting and out in the field.

Often, students are already familiar with some of the apps or are so comfortable using such technology that incorporating their use into the classroom fully engages students in the learning process. It is a way of meeting students where they are at in terms of their learning styles and preferences.

Origin / Implementation

In an effort to introduce students to contemporary work practices used out in the field, the HVAC instructor and instructional assistant began using the tablets and cell phones to access relevant apps in January 2015. They realized that although the current HVAC curriculum adequately covers the essential knowledge and skills necessary for success in the industry, it does not include the use of modern technology as time-saving devices or supplemental tools of the trade. By teaching students about HVAC-related apps, the instructors hope students will become more effective and efficient employees who provide quicker and quality service to customers. 

In addition to the longer-term goal of preparing students to work proficiently out in the field, the instructors also view technology as a means of engaging students in the classroom. They want to tap into the technological literacy and interests of today’s students to more effectively teach them. As the instructors point out, students today already use personal electronic devices to connect to and interact with the world. It is essential that instructors embrace this use as a valuable learning tool rather than a classroom nuisance.

The HVAC instructors presented their idea for use of tablets and apps to the Vice President, Secondary Education for approval. Because the use of technology in the classroom is important to both teachers and students, the request was immediately approved and sent to the Director of Business and Development.  Because of the prosperous adult education programs, purchases such as this are usually possible in all program areas. When a request is made that is appropriate and necessary for the increased achievement of students, the decision to purchase requested items is very easy. Therefore, the purchase was approved and the instructors had the tablets within one week of the request. It is important to note that the Technology Department at CPI selected the best tablets for use in the HVAC classroom based on the desired use as indicated by the instructors.

Results / Impact

CPI administrators and HVAC instructors report that students benefit greatly from the integration of technology into the classroom. Specifically, they have observed:

  • Improvement in accuracy of testing results for individual student-developed HVAC systems.
  • Increased student engagement/on-task behavior in classroom and lab.
  • Improvement in safety practices.
  • Decreased measurement and calculation errors by first year students.

They expect that by the end of the 2015-2016 school year, all HVAC students will be able to competently use the smartphone applications that are used by the leading service companies in the HVAC field.

Based on the classroom success of using tablets and apps in the HVAC program, CPI administrators expect that the use of tablets and educational or industry-related apps will expand to all program areas and instructors (both high school and post-secondary). Thanks to recent funds received through Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) grants, the Director of Business and Development are working together to purchase additional tablets for use by all CPI instructors. This will allow each instructor and class to learn about apps associated with their specific program area while increasing student achievement and professionalism.


Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology
MaryAnn Volders, Vice President, Secondary Education

Links to Recommended Apps:

Class DoJo

HVAC answer guides

AAB Airflow meter

Handyman calculator

Fraction calculator

Resistor calculator

NEMA configurations


Gastite sizing guide

DuPont P/T Calc