Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Creating a Digital Citizenship Program for the Classroom

As a principal I was always shocked by the surprise people had when students would test the boundaries of technology by searching for innapropriate material, or use communication to be mean to others.  I was surprised because this is to be expected from students that have very little exposure to technology and even less training on how to act while using technology.  Imagine a student driver that was never given the rule book to the road, shown how to operate a motor vehicle, and was then given keys to a car and told to put as many miles on it as possible.  I envision them running through red lights, crashing around corners and bumping into other cars.  They would have no real reason (aside from common sense) to expect that any of these actions would be detrimental.

In schools today we expect common sense to keep our kids safe.  We tend to spend very little time with digital citizenship because our students are expected to automatically understand how the digital world can impact their life.  We assume they will be the same kind of citizens online as they are offline.  And when you think about it we are not even doing a great job teaching them how to be citizens offline.   But that is another topic all together.

Start with an objective.  Essentially, write a mission statement that guides and directs the purpose of your Digital Citizenship program.  Here is an example

Students should be able to utilize technology for the purpose of acquiring knowledge and information, creating and distributing content, and communicating with others, without interference, obstruction or destruction by the inappropriate actions of others.

List your stakeholders.  Determine who the Digital Citizenship program will apply to.  Then list off what responsibilities you think each of these stakeholders will play in the achievement of your mission statement.

1. Administrators
2. Teachers
3 Students
4. Parents

Get familiar with the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship.  These nine elements help to simplify the complex digital citizenship landscape by breaking them up into sections.

1. Digital Access
2. Digital Commerce
3. Digital Communication
4. Digital Literacy
5. Digital Etiquette
6. Digital Law
7. Digital Rights 
8. Digital Health
9. Digital Security


If you spend some time reading through each of the nine elements from the website above, you will realize just how large the scope of this topic is.  It also illustrates that as teachers and administrators we have a responsibility to practice what we preach.  It doesn't carry much weight in our classroom to tell students that they should not copy thoughts from Wiki-Pedia when as a teacher we illegally copy materials and distribute them to students.  As an administrator we cannot tell teachers to act appropriately on social media and then post party pictures on our twitter.  If we want good classroom behaviors, we have a responsibility to lead by example and that can sometimes be achieved through holding ourselves to a higher professional standard.

Understand some key topics:

2.Stealing (Copyright Information)
3. School Responsibilities 
4. Equipment Care
5. Social Networks
6. Sexting
7. Identification
8. Digital Dosier

Of course we don't want our kids to be cyberbullying.  When people think of digital citizenship, this is often the first thing that comes to mind.  There is so much more to it than that however.  We have to teach students about their digital dossier as an example.  How much better off would some of today's hollywood starlets like Jennifer Lawrence be had they really known that anything you put into digital form is possibly out there for the world to see.  The event that happened to Jennifer is happening today to students all over the country, with just as devastating of effects.  When an image goes viral, it doesn't always have to be to the entire world.  A photo that is passed around a school via text message can be just as devastating.  

Social networks can sometimes ruin a students chance at getting a job.  It is hard to believe, and to a student that has not yet entered the work force it seems impossible.  But the actions that students take when using technology even at an early age can have a negative impact on their future.  But there is good news as well.  When used properly, social networks can be utilized in the exact opposite way.  By teaching students how to post portfolio information, any amazing achievements and demonstrating skills on a social network, you set them up for success.  You give the world a first impression of greatness.  This is one reason it is important to consider not blocking social media in schools.  It should be something that is taught as a way to prepare students for life outside of school, instead of a forbidden place where you are expected to act inappropriately.  

Equipment care is also a chance to impart wisdom on your students.  There is lots of research that shows when people are given something for free they don't always take the best care of it.  Any teacher that has spent time collecting textbooks knows this to be true.  Many teachers actually work very hard at making sure textbooks are well handled.  They start with teaching students how to build covers for them.  They correct them in the hallways when they see misuse.  Some teachers even have periodic checks to make sure that books are not being written in.  Yet when we implement technology in schools we sometimes forget all of this.  We simply hand out technology without any expectations of its care.  It is a good idea to establish good care practices, just as with your paper materials.  It demonstrates to the students that the devices are important to the teacher, and this will help minimize damage in the long run.

Web Filtering, it isn't just for school anymore.  Remember that there are several stakeholders involved in your technology programs.  Schools filter internet content.  Some parents would like to have the same controls at home but don't always know the best way to make that happen.  One of the ways you can build a positive report with your parent groups is to find materials that help them help you.  When your parents are feeding your students the same kind of quality information about digital citizenship that you are giving them in class it goes a long ways.  Every once in a while however you run into some tough situations.  Some parents don't know how to get a grip on a students desire to seek out inappropriate information and they need a way to help filter content at home.  (Please keep in mind cell phones as they now have data plans and sometimes this can negate any attempt to block websites at home and in school)  One great method is using OpenDNS.  This service allows a parent to block web content before it even hits the home router.  In effect, any device plugged in, or using wifi in the house would be filtered according to the rules that are set up with the OpenDNS service.  

Create a list of resources for all stakeholders to use.  Not everybody knows what Tinder is, or why it is one of the most quickly adopted social media platforms by our youth.  Many of your parents might not know about Secret or Whisper.  Find information for your parents, students and school cohorts.  Make that information available for everybody.  Use this information to inform students of dangers and risks.  Teach them to be good digital citizens, regardless of which tools they choose to use. 

One last thought. School is a place to learn.  We don't come to school knowing all of the answers and being perfect at everything that we do.  Your students are not always going to be perfect digital or analog citizens.  It is important to impart skills and knowledge about digital citizenship to all your classes so the learning curve isn't always trial and error.  We want all of our students to succeed and grow in a digital world.  Although not all mistakes they make will be equal, we can work to prevent as many of these mistakes as possible.  In the process, you will be creating a generation of students that will act appropriately with their digital tools. 

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