Banning Apps. The New Book Banning?

The Catcher in the Rye was once the most banned book in American whilst simultaneously being the most taught book in America. Professional educators realize an item of academic significance and are willing to use it to promote student growth both socially and academically. The same can be said for the relatively new educational media source — apps.

With the advent of the App Store in the summer of 2008, educators with connected mobile devices were graced with an ever-expanding sea of potential applications to support, inspire, and transform their educational practice. Some of these apps have little value, some are designed for other markets, but many of these apps have real value in the classroom. It is up to the teacher to evaluate a resource, digital, analog, or otherwise to determine if it meets the intended learning goals. The teacher then teaches the student how to best use the resource. It is up to the teacher to advocate for apps and resources that enhance or transform learning.

Bookstores and libraries are similar to content within the App Store, but they have been around for a much longer time. Their offerings are sorted into various categories to meet the various needs of the reader. Some of the content is applicable to education, other resources are not. Most of the resources are appropriate and some of the content is inappropriate. It is up to the reader, the librarian, and the teacher to decide what is of value and what is not permissible.

Apps in the app store are categorized in a number of ways. You can search by theme, topic, or price. Filtering by grade, subject, and purpose also allows the user to quickly hone in on desired applications. One of the most overlooked and important categories is the rating system. This determines the target audience and appropriate age group for the app. It assists users in determining if the content is designed for the age of the intended audience.

According to COPPA, children under the age of 13 are not allowed to have email or unpermitted/unfiltered access to the internet’s resources. School districts have in the past twenty years applied strict content-filtering services to reduce the risk of inappropriate content access for students. The filters are constantly improving, useful blocked sites are unblocked as needed, and the efforts have made internet access at school a much safer experience. Even still, a user bent on finding inappropriate content can locate it within several keystrokes and clicks — even with all our protective filters in place.

The filters are one line of defence. The other component to effective access to resources in the digital world is education, because at the end of the day, however, student head home. Home to internet access that is not filtered. Home to app access that is not vetted by education professionals.

Education is the essential partner to web filters. Teaching our students how to use resources the right way is more effective that banning or blocking the resource. If we are not modeling appropriate use of sites, apps, and tools that are used by people, business, and the world in appropriate ways we are failing our students. This means we cannot continue to block and blind ourselves to useful apps and resources.

Addressing issues that will inevitably arise with most web content requires diligence and dignity. The vast majority of inappropriate content is discovered by accident. This allows us to learn how it was discovered, report it, teach how to avoid it, and learn from the experience. Students that actively seek inappropriate material are dealt with on an individual basis and with dignity. Without shaming, the child receives appropriate consequences to their age and violation with parent notification, too.

It is easy to block a site or an app and be done. There. No access. No problem. This does nothing to support our students. It keeps them “safer” during their six hours at school, but does nothing to support their 18 hours away from school. Blocking a site, like banning a book, will only cause students to seek alternative access to services that are less reliable. Services like YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, and SnapChat are used by professionals worldwide. If their proper use is not explicitly taught, it will be informally taught by their peers as the get older —and likely in a far less appropriate way.

Ultimately this boils down to blocking and ignoring or purposeful use and education. One is quick and easy with no educational support, the other takes more time and attention empowers students. We are in the business of educating children. The choice is clear to me. If there is a practical, useful, purposeful app or resource, it is important to teach our students how to use it correctly rather than fear the off-chance or minute possibility that they are exposed to something inappropriate.

While we are at it, how do we define what is appropriate and inappropriate? It’s time to chew on that thought. We likely view that through a unique lens.

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