I want to learn more about the messaging apps my students use, how they work and understand some of the ways students use them.
Messaging apps (or 'social messaging' or 'chat applications') are apps and platforms that enable messaging between users.
While many of these started around social networking platforms, a number of these have now developed into broader platforms.
Users of messaging apps can send text, video, images and location information to individuals or groups. Some of these apps allow for secure messaging or have messages that disappear within a certain timeframe.
MOST USED MESSAGING APPS WORLDWIDE
You probably already knew this, but for students Facebook isn't cool.
Most prefer to use a variety of apps to connect with each other and curate their lives. As the online world evolves and changes, there are more and more messaging apps to keep up with and this can be a challenge - especially if you are used to just using iMessage or WhatsApp.
And some apps, like Instagram, whose primary purpose isn't messaging, also incorporate messaging functions.
WhatsApp 2 billion
Facebook Messenger 1.3 billion
WeChat 1.2 billion
Viber 1 billion
QQ 600 million
SnapChat 514 million
Telegram 550 million
Kik 300 million
Discord 300 million
Signal 64 million
These figures change all the time, and the pandemic has increased the number of users very quickly for almost all apps.
Most messaging apps do not allow users who are younger than 13.
There are some apps aimed at younger children such as Messenger Kids from Facebook (1.4 million users) which requires a parent Facebook account, or JustTalk Kids. These apps have expanded privacy controls suitable for younger children.
WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THEM?
Students have access to a support network. It's a network that is likely to be far more responsive than in the real world - and much bigger.
Collaboration. Students can collaborate with people that they may otherwise not be able to.
Digital maturity. Messaging apps can help students to become comfortable with managing multiple streams of information, just as adults need to do. This is an essential part of developing their digital literacy.
There is an opportunity to bring people from all over the world into your classroom
They open your classes to a variety of experiences and opinions. These services make it a lot easier to bring someone from outside the school into your classroom, and they don’t even have to be in the same time-zone.
Messaging creates an online network of support for your students. You can’t always be available to answer your students' questions. Group chats mean that one student can ask a question that anyone in the chat can answer.
WHAT ARE SOME DOWNSIDES?
Advertising content may not be appropriate for the classroom. It is important to have strategies to deal with advertising that is not suitable for the classroom.
Friendship issues can arise through the use of messaging apps.
Your students will often feel more inclined to type something than say something and these choices are immediately public.
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK?
What advertising will students see?
Am I comfortable with the data that is being shared with the owners of the platform?
Does the app offer a disappearing message feature?
Do I understand the privacy settings?
Is this platform appropriate to use in my classes?
Is this platform blocked by school filters?
Does the platform conform to school or department guidelines?
MORE ABOUT MESSAGING APPS
This ABC video looks at messaging apps and looks at video chat app Houseparty in which you can create rooms with friends.
Video from Australia's ABC on messaging apps. Source: ABC Science on YouTube.
MORE ABOUT MESSAGING APPS - protecting younger users
The makers of messaging apps are starting to add features to protect younger users.
In 2021, Instagram added a feature to prevent adults messaging people under 18 who don’t follow them. The feature sends the adult user a notification saying they can’t DM the account.
Instagram are also using AI tools to send teenage users prompts encouraging them to be careful when interacting with adults. The system detects suspicious behaviour such as an adult sending a large number of friend requests or messages to children and sends a safety notice to the recipient and gives them the option to end the conversation, or block, report, or restrict the sender.
Of course, many of these tools rely on the age verification when users sign up and so are not foolproof.
MORE ABOUT MESSAGING APPS - DISCORD
Discord is a text chat voice and video calling platform which has, until recently, been used by gamers.
It was created by Jason Citron in 2015 out of his experience developing games. Like all the best products it came out of a simple pain point: it was hard for gamers to communicate. Discord now has 300 million users, with 14 million people logging on every day.
Discord blends the kind of chat found in Slack or Teams with video calling and voice chat and an additional layer of features that serve the needs of gamers.
Discord also supports one of the other core aspects of gaming— the community that grows up around games — so it provides lots of tools that allow people to gather, hang out and socialise. Fans of a game or a game studio can gather to talk about what’s coming down the pipe in the new season of a game, exchange game strategies or just hang out in small or large groups.
Discord is based on servers- but not a server in the hardware sense, but a community in which you can gather people, content and ways to communicate. You can set up many servers and toggle between them. You can join servers if they are public or get invited if they are private.
Once in a server, you can set up or join hashtag-marked channels which are where people discuss topics. Some channels are for text-based chat, some are group voice chats. Discord servers include video calling within each server and a live streaming function that allows anyone to stream any application in HD quality. Here Discord is like Zoom, but whereas Zoom calls and webinars have to be scheduled, Discord provides 24/7 availability for voice and video calling.
Discord is now widely used by many students - and not just gamers - due to this mixture of features that make it easily accessible and fun to use, although its use in education is, for the moment, limited. In 2020, Discord outlined the way in which educators can get started.
One of the benefits of Discord is a seemingly complex, but actually simple and very powerful, set of controls over how servers, channels and user roles can be configured. They allow the server administrator, who can be a teacher, to control who is allowed to view content, comment and interact. These controls go far beyond in their subtlety what is available in almost all other multiuser platforms.
Discord also has a powerful bot infrastructure which can automate some of the more time-consuming management activities. These can be used in a variety of ways, as HaileyburyX is using them in its HaileyburyX AI courses.
There's a lot to learn about Discord in education and a good place to start is this article by Dr Peter Thomas and Lauren Sayer.