The other day, I had two simultaneous conversations on Twitter. One, with a group of educators and one with a high school student, Gabe Howard whose vignette is featured in my book, Social LEADia. This post is me trying to work through my thinking on the very important topic of inappropriate apps.
On the adult side of the conversation, Bethany Hill posted a reference to the statement made from a student to George Couros based on his 2015 post, Drown or Swim? This was followed by the advice by Kimiko Pettis that in some cases, “scaffolding” is important (to extend the metaphor, see the pic of pool tubes & noodles. Then Mr. Vince continued (and pushed the metaphor) saying, “Pool fencing is mandatory. Don’t forget that we do close pools. Some SM apps are totally inappropriate.”
Mr. Vince sited the Spotafriend app which seems to be a place for teens to engage in “dirty chat”.
You can see the full convo here.
Like I said, I was simultaneously engaged in a conversation with Gabe Howard (10th grade) on DM. He told me about the Amino app. I had never heard of it.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation (used with permission)
I am passionate about gaming and specifically, game related fictional writing. I have had many of my stories featured on http://www.aminoapps.com . The app is free on your iPhone, I’m not certain you will be able to access them on the website. I have always enjoyed writing. I have been writing and publishing my work online, for almost 2 years now. I enjoy unleashing my creative juices and ideas to my audience. Some of my pieces have had 500 -2,000 likes and much feedback. Most importantly, its therapeutic for me. I have mentioned to you that traditional school does not provide the creativity that some students crave.
Amino is a social media app similar to Twitter or Facebook, with a little unique spin in the forms of various communities. The main drawing point for Amino is individual communities unique to a specific interest. For instance, there are specific communities for Movies, T.V. Series, Video Games, Art, Writing, and the list goes on and on. I
You can do many things on Amino, ranging from blog posts, polls, public chats where you can talk to online people, and many other options. You can follow other users, gain reputation points by posting more content and being nice in the community, and see the latest posts made by others. I use the app as a way to express my interest and personality as a writer, posting various projects that are “featured on the front cover” of the community. Basically, it’s a way for people who enter a community to see the latest and most stunning pieces of art or other content. Amino is very tricky to be apart of, you need spend more time on it if you play a major part in a community. I am a leader in one community, and the people who made the app (Team Amino) require that the leaders spend an absorbent amount of time moderating posts, becoming involved in the community, and just being active in general. It can be frustrating in some instances like these. While I enjoy posting stories and getting constructive criticism and positive feedback from other users, I think Amino has about ran its course for me.
When I looked the app up on Common Sense Media, there was lots of activity–mostly parents saying that the app is dangerous and that it perpetuates cyberbullying.
If I had only looked at Common Sense Media, I would have a singular idea about this app that for Gabe has been a very enriching community.
Though I do agree that not all social media apps are created equally and they don’t all have a place in the classroom, my chat with Gabe proves to me that this is such a grey area that to most adults seems very black and white. I have written about inappropriate apps and how complicated this is before , and when I heard about Music.ly when talking about Periscope and again based on my experiences with Yik Yak (which I include in the book),
You see, at first glance, you would say, ban those apps. Make sure your kids don’t go near them. But what can be a really great app for some, can be deemed dangerous for others. Typically, it’s not the app, but the way an app is used and by whom it is used that makes it “dangerous”.
Think about this, I’ve seen some extremely inappropriate stuff posted on Todays Meet and Padlet…The fact is, you could say that about Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook; for some, the experience can be extremely negative and for others transformationally positive.
And yes, while fences are important in some cases, what I think we need to worry about is the false sense of security we have when fences are up.
Of course we need to make our students aware of the dangers of predators who engage in these communities to try to lure kids, but there are many facets to apps like Amino and Spotafriend which require us to ask some important questions:
Why might kids gravitate towards apps like this?
How can we empower them to comport themselves in positive ways and be “first responders’ (term I learned from Matt Soeth) if something goes awry?
Are they really as bad as we think? And if so, to what extent does banning & blocking really help?
Are these apps appealing to kids because they are seeking their own “tribes” or communities away from parental control?
How might we support kids to seek out the good kinds of communities which we as adults call a PLN?
I firmly agree with Henry Jenkins, danah boyd, and Mimi Ito in their assertion in Participatory Cultures in a Networked Era that blocking sites:
“actually perpetuates risk as it ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own”
And the BBC article Limiting Time online won’t reduce risks shared by Kim Zajac speaks to the necessity of helping students build emotional resiliency and that “helping them deal with risks they face online is vital”.
The fact is, we have NO WAY of knowing when the next “BAD” app is going to come along. And every app has a terms of service which is designed to prevent cyberbullying and inappropriate use.
What I think is so much more important is the conversation that ensues when we mentor instead of monitor, block & ban. (Devorah Heitner uses the expression mentor over monitor & I love it).
And whether we are parents at home or teachers in a classroom, perhaps we need to ask questions like the following to get a better understanding of what’s going on:
“How do we define community?
“What makes online friendships different from face to face friendships?”
“Where do you meet others who share your interests?”
“What are the benefits and dangers of connecting online?”
In classrooms, these can be open provocations for further reading, inquiring, and debating in Language Arts or English class.
These are the sometimes murky waters through which we must wade as we learn how to navigate the unchartered waters of modern teaching and learning. But navigating them effectively means that we ensure we are equipped to handle unexpected wind or storms amidst calm seas rather than staying ashore and waiting for the perfect day to venture out because our kids are already out there and some of them really need us.