Note: This script contains hyperlinks mentioned in the video
This is Kelsie Lenihan’s final final project for ECI 832. I chose to deep dive into apps on my phone. I chose to look at ones I use personally and professionally, and ones that intersect. I wanted to discover the actual value in these apps and whether they stand up to any kind of critical examination. I examined three types of apps: the social, the essential, and the nice-to-have.
The social app I looked at was the ubiquitous Snapchat. I use Snapchat and my students avidly use Snapchat. It seems that one cannot avoid Snapchat. It is a tool that facilitates and complicates communication around the world. It has its pros and cons. I wanted to discover whether the pros do indeed outweigh the cons. I also wanted to see if I could bridge the personal and the professional and see if I could find an educational application for Snapchat where I could use it safely and effectively as a tool in my classroom, keeping in mind the integration of technology and use Snapchat not as an add on but as an enhancement to my teaching.
The essential app I examined was Google Classroom. I use the app on my phone and I use the web-based app. I will be looking at both. I find both apps essential as they have both fundamentally shifted my teaching, I hope for the better. Google Classroom is a problematic application that I will explore in some depth, but by no means its entirety.
The app I looked at that I deem nice to have but not essential to my teaching is Remind. I was an early adopter of Remind (I joined in 2011) and have created a class for every semester, but am a sporadic user. I will go into the technical aspects as well as the privacy aspects of Remind as well as why I consider it a nice to have tool, but not an essential tool like Google Classroom.
The first app I will explore is Snapchat.
Snapchat was created in April of 2011 by college students, similar to Facebook. The purpose is to share pictures and videos, which disappear after a user sets a time limit, as they discuss in their FAQs on their website.
It has gained in popularity since its launch and a reported 187 million daily active users.
Along with its popularity came scrutiny. In 2013, a mere two years after its launch, Forbes was already warning parents of the potential issues regarding privacy and sexting.
A side note about this picture: a student discovered my ECI blog and was concerned for my internet safety because I had posted a picture of my Snapcode. I assured them that I had doctored my picture by adding random dots in Paint and was safe from random people adding me on Snapchat. Students are more aware of privacy and safety online than we give them credit for, sometimes.
I currently use Snapchat as a communication tool with my family and friends. I enjoy the fact that it doesn’t last and I don’t have to worry about producing the perfect Instagram shot. I can be my imperfect self.
At the very outset, Snapchat warns its users that they are indeed entering a legally binding contract with “Snap Group Limited”.
When I polled my students regarding the fact that they’ve signed a legal contract with Snapchat, there was a sense of disbelief. My students weren’t aware that the terms of service they glance through (at best) or accept blindly (at worst) were legally binding. They thought these terms of service were just guidelines on how to use the product or what they were or were not allowed to do on the app.
Students were also not aware that, while they do still maintain ownership over content, Snapchat may use the content as they wish. As is seen in the TOS, Snapchat retains the right to monetize your image (including your own picture) as they wish and you have no right to any compensation for it.
Snapchat also explicitly references the fact that their product may be used for less than honourable means.
However, according to this document (which I highly recommend reading through), Snapchat keeps files for 31 days and these records contain “metadata”, which can include geographical information associated with snaps sent and received as well as the user. It is important to note that these logs are not the actual snaps themselves, but the logs of the snaps (when they were sent, from whom, to whom, if and when they were opened, from where it was sent etc).
If requested by law enforcement, Snapchat can and will preserve information they receive.
Armed with all of the information, as a teacher, I am hesitant to use Snapchat in my classroom.
I understand the ephemeral nature of Snapchat and the need to see and have hard, concrete, permanent evidence of learning. I don’t see any application of Snapchat in my classroom as a technological app.
Where I have found the idea of Snapchat useful is in the template. As part of a novel study, I ask students to create physical copies of a snap as sent by a character from the novel we read.
I have encountered a few really useful websites in order to help parents and educators navigate Snapchat, especially as its features alter and change to include some worrisome things like the Snapmap.
In conclusion for this app, I think I will continue using it for my own personal social media presence, but I don’t foresee it becoming a part of my teaching. I like to have concrete evidence of a student’s learning and unless they’re just continually taking screenshots, there isn’t a way to produce permanent evidence on Snapchat. And if they’re just taking screenshots, there’s surely a better way to document their learning.
The second app I took a look at is Google Classroom.
This is an app I consider essential to my teaching.
However, if you had asked me a year ago about it, I wouldn’t have said so. I would’ve said that it looked like too much work for too little pay off.
I know it sounds like a shameless plug for Alec’s courses, but the course EC&I 834 Online and Blended Learning, really changed my perspective on how to learn online.
This year, I started putting everything onto Google Classroom. All of my handouts are up there, all of my assignments are there, students communicate with me and I ask students questions about their assignments.
As I’ve mentioned in blog posts, the amount of paper I consume has drastically been reduced.
For example, I assigned 3 mini-essays to my 30 ELC 20 students. I put these assignments up on Classroom and expected my students to hand it in on there. Each mini-essay is approximately three pages. Three pages times three essays is around 9 pages per student. Multiply that by 30 students and that’s easily around 300 pieces of paper (or 150 if it’s double sided).
I took home 30 pieces of paper. These thirty pieces of paper are their blank rubrics.
To me, this is a significant change and impact on my teaching.
Students I have asked appreciate the due date feature. Assignments no longer have to be due at the end of class. Assignments can be due later on in the day, or even later on in the week. Students have more control over their deadlines because they are allowed more responsibility for their learning.
But, if I remove my rosy glasses, I become more aware of the issues surrounding Google Classroom. These issues include privilege, copyright infringement, privacy, and the separation of personal and professional.
First, the Terms of Service for Google Classroom.
That indecipherable picture on the screen right now is a screenshot of the TOS information page for Classroom.
It is huge and daunting.
Google provides videos to explain how some of these things work. However, glancing through them, a grand total of 349 people had wondered about data protection for their students. 349. This is astounding and frightening.
Around 15 million students use Google Classroom, according to a NYT article published in 2017. Conservatively, that’s 500,000 classrooms. Imagine how many teachers. And 349 people watched the 2:01 video on data protection.
Google faces many, many privacy issues. Are schools wise to use these products? Am I doing my students a service or a disservice by insisting they turn their assignments in on Classroom? How many assumptions about a student’s position in relation to technology am I making when I insist they use Classroom? Why do I assume that they have consistent, stable access to technology? What can I do about these assumptions to make me a more social justice oriented teacher?
In my EC&I 834 class I looked at other online learning apps, such as Canvas, as an alternative to the monolith of Google. But, I came to the conclusion that Classroom was a much better service because it offered seamless integration of apps like Docs, which students use to create their assignments anyway.
In terms of copyright, how much am I able to post online on my Classroom, which is a closed community? Can I leave it up there all semester or should I remove it when I no longer need it? What about archived classes? All of these questions I have are dependent on who sees my Classroom and to what extent they’re worried about me posting my bootleg copy of “A Painted Door” because the copies in the books are too hard to get right on the photocopier.
Finally, in regards to my personal life, Google Classroom can interfere with my separation of the teacher me and the at home me.
I preface the following with the caveat that I understand the choices I have made and understand I have complete agency to change them, should they become too much of a burden.
I have the Google Classroom app on my phone. I get alerts whenever a student has turned an assignment in late or has a question or comment on their assignment. I like the accessibility of being able to access all of my classes on my phone. I can monitor students’ work from afar, as I am not always present in class due to a variety of reasons. I can schedule assignments and troubleshoot as I go.
However, this convenience comes at a cost.
Students are not always known to turn assignments in at reasonable hours. I will sometimes forget to turn the Do Not Disturb mode on my phone and will receive alerts at 2 or 3 in the morning of a student handing in a late assignment.
Again, I emphasis that I know my choices and for now, I like having Classroom on my phone.
This may change as privacy issues evolve and change and as I reevaluate my stance on the separation of personal and professional.
In conclusion, Google Classroom has far more benefits for me as a teacher because it removes excuses of lost papers and the “I totally handed that in under your door!”.
Accountability for personal learning has increased in my own classroom and in my opinion, I think Classroom is a good, essential teaching tool.
The last app I looked at is the communication service, Remind.
Remind was founded in 2011 as Remind 101 by a pair of brothers. Their mission was to increase engagement between the classroom and parents as a way to help students achieve success.
I’ve written about Remind earlier in the semester, as I launched my final project and a lot of what I said in the blog post will be repeated and expanded upon here.
As I mentioned, I was an early adopter thanks to a fellow teacher telling me about this awesome app where you can text students and they can’t text you back.
The communication between students and teachers/parents has been enhanced in the past while, as there is now a feature that a teacher can turn on or off where a participant in the class can respond beyond the four emojis. I’ve turned this on, this semester, and have had only a few students make use of it. I am undecided if I’m going to continue using it in the future, or if I am going to encourage its use.
When I first started using Remind 101, I tried it out in a couple of my classes to mixed results.
At this point, not every student had access to a cellphone and RBE hadn’t yet implemented GAFE so not every student had their own email address (they may have been sharing with parents, siblings etc) so signing up with email wasn’t always an option.
However, I persisted. I saw the potential in keeping in contact with students and parents regarding assignments, class changes etc.
I found it especially useful with my homeroom classes. I let parents and students know of happenings around the school, three-way conferences, scholarship opportunities etc.
All of this being said, I don’t find it essential. I find it a nice add on to my arsenal of communication tools, but if it were gone tomorrow, I would probably find a way to communicate in another way (most likely through Google Classroom).
A deep dive into Remind’s Terms of Service leads to some interesting reading.
Remind is iKeepSafe certified. I examined the iKeepSafe’s website because I wasn’t familiar with what it was.
iKeepSafe is a non-profit organization that certifies products on their privacy compliance, specifically around educational tools. They accept applications from products and companies to conduct compliance checks and if the company passes, they receive a “badge” to indicate that they take privacy of student information seriously.
Programs like Hopscotch (which I used as a coding teacher in a previous class, so I was happy to see it on the list), ClassDojo (a Remind alternative), Happy Numbers, and Easel.ly are listed as having passed the privacy tests. There isn’t a long list and the focus is generally on K-8 tools, which makes sense.
But, knowing that external auditors found Remind to not breach any privacy issues is reassuring when promoting this as a safe communication app to students, parents, and fellow teachers.
On the Terms of Service page for Remind, they have their legalese on the left and on the right is a summary of what the section is saying or trying to explain.
I found this useful to be able to compare what the technical information is versus what it means in plain speak.
I noticed that in the Snapchat TOS, they attempted to do the same thing. It made me wonder if this is a new corporate responsibility movement, to make their TOS more accessible and easier to understand and read.
In the TOS, Remind is very clear about the limits of use for the application. They explicitly state that this is not an app for solicitation of goods or services. This is an educational app to foster communication between school and home.
Remind’s website is very user friendly, with an emphasis on large, circular icons to guide navigation. It focuses on user experience, however, in trying to find the homepage for Remind, it gets a little tricky.
Whenever I type in “remind”, it takes me right to my homepage, with my list of classes. In order to access external help pages, there needs to be a few clicks before you get where you wanted to go. The emphasis of the pages is on use, not external navigation.
In finishing up the examination of this app, again, I find that it is a nice tool to have and to use, but it is not the only thing nor necessarily the best thing out there for communication between home and school. I enjoy using it because it’s what I’m used to, but if something else came up, I could be convinced to explore a different app.
In conclusion, I’ve explored three apps this semester: Remind, Google Classroom, and Snapchat. Two of these apps have desktop companion apps that I’ve used as well.
Being a 21st century teacher comes with living in a land of tensions. The balance between personal and professional is continually blurred and the concept of not taking your work home is almost non-existent now. My students have continual access to me, if they require it. It takes an effort on my part to disengage and to remove myself from teacher mode and enter home mode.
While the educational apps I explored certainly do have conveniences about them, the drawbacks cannot be ignored. Education continues to become more and more complex as technology evolves.
The social media app I used is certainly fun and engaging (I mean, come on. Even my one-year-old loves the filters.), I understand the privacy issues facing the company. The trust between the app and its users and also the app’s obligation to the legal community is something that again, requires work to be balanced. In the end, who does Snapchat have to respond to the most? Their shareholders or a judge?
This semester’s project into applications was fun and informative. I read through Terms of Service, which I hadn’t really done before and was amazed at the language and the efforts put forth by the companies to appear transparent.
I will continue to use Google Classroom, though I don’t know if I will keep it on my personal phone. I will definitely keep using Snapchat. I enjoy it and it provides levity to my day. Remind is one I am continually on the fence about. I always ask myself if it is really adding something important and irreplaceable to my teaching or if it were removed, would I really see a difference?
I think these are all questions that should be asked about any app, educational or not: does it help me or does it hinder me?
Thanks for watching!