As more schools and classrooms turn to virtual learning due to COVID-19, the threat of cyberbullying continues. Fortunately a group of students at STEM School Highlands Ranch have developed an anti-cyberbullying app that is designed to stop a cyberbully in their tracks, and make them think twice about what they are going to say.
Simi Basu, a STEM computer science teacher and cybersecurity coach, helped lead those students in their design of “Kindly”, the anti-cyberbullying app that has achieved national recognition.
Simi sat down for an interview with STEM communications manager Jeff Maher to discuss the app, how it works and the students who created it.
Jeff: Thank you for joining us Simi, I’ve been hearing a lot lately about this “Kindly” app? What’s it all about?
Simi: Thank you Jeff for having me and for your time today. First of all I would like to congratulate the team for their hard work and commitment. It’s been an interesting year for our project.
Kindly is an anti-cyberbullying service that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to identify and urges the users to use a different language to minimize the impact of bullying. Initially the product was developed as a standalone app and a Chrome service that works very similar to services such as Grammarly to help the user rethink their choice of hurtful words.”
Jeff: Tell me about the team that put together Kindly, and how they accomplished it.
Simi: Sure. A little background around how we started. In November 2018 one of my teams including Ceyda Sarak, Gitanjali Rao , Jatin Potnuri , Azra Sarak, and myself as an advisor competed for the eCybermission competition. Our topic was to create a cyberbullying awareness app using AI. After four months of work, we won the Regionals in April 2019 and then were selected for national competition in May 2019. This was very special moment as we got this news just one week after the May event at STEM school Highlands Ranch. But that did not stop us and I found that the students were even more determined to take it forward.
I would like to thank eCybermission for supporting the purpose and our vision of minimizing cyberbullying events with the help of technology.
Jeff: I understand the team won a big award for developing Kindly. How were they recognized?
Simi: Well that was the best part and great experience for these students. The team went to Virginia in June 2019 and we won the STEM-in-Action Grant award for $5000 to enhance our app and work on different platforms. The AEOP STEM-In-Action Grant is awarded to five teams selected by judges and based on the evaluation of the teams’ proposed implementation plans. The grants are awarded across all grades to the teams whose implementation plans prove that their projects provide the greatest possible impact within their communities. While being in Washington DC, we had a chance to meet and talk to lot of people regarding our project.
Jeff: Why are apps like Kindly important to have in the age of cyberbullying?
Simi: Cyberbullying continues to be a problem all across the world. And the threat of it only increases in an age when so many classrooms have turned to virtual learning. My team worked on the issue for a year and we launched the app in May 2020. The launch event in May was attended by several students and organizations nationwide including Forbes, Ignite, UNICEF, Children’s Kindness Network, and board members and students from ten different states, some of whom were featured in a Disney’s Marvel Hero episode. A demo of the solution was shown and a partnership with Children’s Kindness Network was established in addition to opening up a challenge for crowd-sourcing and empowering students to code.
A total of about 550 hours effort was contributed by team in addition to promotion, awareness and preparation for launch events. So, safe to say it has taken a lot of work to get to this point for Kindly.
Jeff: How can people download Kindly and spread word to others about the app?
Simi: The website is https://kindly.godaddysites.com/. People can go to this website and download the app. The website also has a way for users to provide feedback and continuous improvement is planned in the future. And this is a link that provides a video overview of Kindly and how it works: https://youtu.be/aBOTWvpxxnY
Spreading the word on Kindly’s service in addition to bringing awareness on Cyber-bullying and Internet safety is planned for the future. That further helps bringing together a community of teen volunteers who believe in the message of “Developed by teens for teens” and help reduce the cyber-bullying events.
In discussion with app or software marketing experts, we changed our plan to start with top down partnerships rather than implementing in single school or a club. We developed partnerships with Children’s Kindness Network, who now have Kindly as a service available from their site. The other significant partnership developed is with UNICEF, who have provided an opportunity to create blogs and vlogs on Kindly to spread the word of internet safety in addition to the idea of using the service.
END OF INTERVIEW
Watch Simi’s full interview about Kindly below.