This week we were alerted to a teens’ top apps chart posted on a principal’s page on Facebook. It featured the chart in this thoughtful blog post by educator April Requard in New Mexico.
The chart, “10 Apps Teens Are Using that Parents Need to Know,” represents a great media literacy education opp for educators as well as their students. It surprised us that it was making the rounds of educators’ social media circles because, just at first glance, it seemed out of date.
For example, where is Snapchat on this list? we wondered. Last year “83% of US teens age 12-17 use[d] Snapchat at least once a month,” according to the latest figures available from eMarketer. Other examples: the France-based “Yellow” app is now “Yubo”; Latvia-based ASKfm is on life support and has few US users of any age; and China-based Musical.ly (popular among preteens and young teens in the US) and Calif.-based AfterSchool are not on it. Ontario-based Kik Messenger, also missing from this list, is huge with US teens in some states. As for Whisper, TechCrunch reported last summer that every member of Whisper’s board had stepped down and it had laid off 20% of its staff, so it’s not clear how popular it still is with teens.
We highly recommended that educators and parents searching for the latest information on apps students use bring along plenty of critical thinking. First, look for a source, a date and methodology for any chart, list or infographic. What age or grade levels and which geographic area does it represent – the entire U.S., for example? We couldn’t find that information here, so we went to the source. April kindly got back to us right away, writing that her chart was based on recent research in the App Store and talking with middle school students where she is in New Mexico. So this chart does not represent all US 13-17 year-olds as some viewers might think. She also told us that it was, understandably, really hard to narrow the list down to 10, so she consciously left Snapchat out, figuring all parents and teachers who saw the chart would know how much teens like that app. Good to know.
The thing is, teens’ use of social media varies from school to school and especially region to region. It’s really interesting to see what apps students in one school or district use the most, but those choices don’t necessarily represent your students’ top picks.
So here’s what would be truly relevant to you and your students: media literacy you co-develop. Put together a “focus group” of students at your school, or one that represents several middle and high schools in your district. Maybe it’s your student leaders or any class that uses digital media a lot. Tell them the group’s comments will be anonymous wherever shared. Ask them, based on their research as well as their own experience with social media, what their top 10 apps are. Since tech use is so individual and variable, based on local preferences, they and their readers will learn more if they go beyond their own social media experience. Be sure they consider the above questions about date and demographics in their research and include all the apps students use most, not just social ones (e.g., the Weather app is often a favorite). Extra credit for annotating the list – explaining what they like about each app. It would also be interesting to know what apps or services they feel play host to the most negative or harmful behavior and why. This can easily (ideally) be an annual project, because everybody will benefit from keeping the list current.
So there you have a solid new media literacy lesson that will benefit all participants because current and relevant to your school community. We would LOVE to hear what they turn up, if you’d post it here or email us via info[at]icanhelpline.org.