By: Jennifer Casa-Todd
“Just as schools have played a role in preparing students to be citizens in the traditional sense, educators must now ensure that our children are ready to be active and responsible participants in our increasingly digital society”
(Couros & Katia, 2015, pg 6).
There isn’t a single educator who would argue with the fact that we need to teach kids how to navigate online spaces safely and critically. What I have noticed however is that there is an extremely huge variance in what educators think this should look like. In my research this week I am overwhelmed by the number of different definitions of digital citizenship as well as the different components. If you google, “digital citizenship defined,” there are 506,000 results. It seems like every District and every organization is trying to come up with their own unique framework. This makes sense to me on some level as every school District, every school even has its own culture.
But are we creating these frameworks on a grand scale which then become stagnant? Are they simply units that need to be “covered” and checked off? Even in my own practice, I curated this resource in 2011 which I now look at and would (and will when I have time) completely revamp because my own stance and the kind of choices I would make today are radically different. Is it a decent resource that teachers, especially those who are not comfortable utilizing online spaces would find supportive? Absolutely. But, I know that personally I would need the resources I use to match the group of students I had in front of me, the learning context in my class, and the purpose for which I would be using a social media platform.
To me, it is an absolute necessity, to teach kids how to navigate online spaces in creative, critical healthy and ethical ways (my own definition of digital citizenship) positively, in context rather than isolation.
This is supported by research about situated learning around reading, writing, and mathematics, which has stood the test of time and which I believe is completely relevant to this conversation. Consider these quotations about student learning:
- learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential and knowledge must be applied in context in order to be used and made explicit (Brown et al, 1989).
- Research around using vocabulary words from a dictionary to teach reading show learning to be ineffective because “learning from dictionaries, like any method that tries to teach abstract concepts independently of authentic situations, overlooks the way understanding is developed through continued, situated use. (Brown et al., page 33).
- People who use tools actively rather than just acquire them, appear to build an increasingly rich implicit understanding of the world in which they use the tools and of the tools themselves. (Brown et all, 1989, pg 33).
- given the chance to observe and practice in situ the behavior of members of a culture, people pick up relevant jargon, imitate behavior, and gradually start to act in accordance with its norms and that despite the fact that cultural practices are often extremely complex, students, when given the opportunity to observe and practice them, students adopt them with great success. (Brown et al., 1989, page 34)
And now apply this analogy to using technology tools and social media in context. It makes complete sense!
We continue to treat Digital Citizenship as discrete units in school.
We rarely explore social media within the context of the classroom in order to support the nuanced understanding of etiquette, usage, etc…that can only come with using tools in authentic and meaningful ways.
We also tend to block sites that may be problematic which makes a guided and contextual approach to digital citizenship problematic at best or worse yet, becomes about teaching kids how to circumvent firewalls. This passage from Participatory Cultures in a Networked World reinforces my own feelings about this:
“[B]locking sites perpetuates risk as it ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own. Many young people lack opportunities to learn how to use new media tools effectively and appropriately. Not just that, but a reliance on blocking sends the message that sites and tools important to students have little to nothing to contribute to intellectual pursuits. (Jenkins, Ito, boyd, 2016, pg 16)
As much as the thought of encountering an inappropriate image in front of an entire class instils dread in me, I know that at least a safe classroom environment is less problematic that that child encountering that image on their own device…a fact we definitely need to address with parents!
Can kids learn about self-regulation and what a healthy balance of online and offline looks like if we ask students to leave electronic devices in their lockers?
Do kids really understand what appropriate commenting looks like without extending and practicing this skill with explicit instruction and practice with an authentic audience?
Can kids really understand intellectual property if we don’t have them explore Creative Commons licencing for their own creations which they post for a widespread audience?
If we only focus on the fear narrative, will students recognize the positive potential of connecting online?
It is true that many teachers don’t feel comfortable enough to be the “expert” when it comes to modelling the use of social media, but teachers know their curriculum well and most importantly know how to pose the right questions, which is arguably a more important skill than answering questions anyway.
Teaching kids about the online world needs to be an organic and contextual process guided by an adult who can ask the right questions.
Student Voice and Digital Citizenship
Students need to part of the Digital Citizenship conversation. In as much as we talk about student voice, I often find it missing when it comes to practice. Whatever table I am sitting at, I always invite students to it to give their thoughts and opinions. Check out how students contributed to the solution during our Yik Yak episode here.
That’s why I am so excited about @Digcitkids, Digital Citizenship for kids by kids. It is created by
@CurranCentral a 4th grader with the help of his mom Marialice who is as passionate about bringing student voice and student digital leadership into our schools as I am.
Be sure to watch the Digcitkids website (which literally just went live in time for this post!!) as it develops and grows. The idea around Digcitkids is to provide an opportunity to amplify student voice and to promote students as digital leaders k-12. The student and/or classroom ambassador program provides an opportunity for students from around the world to get involved in creating and sharing content and will allow students to participate in monthly challenges.
Curran wanted to start digcitkids as a way to address the conversation about digital access & connected learning opportunities for all students. Plus, after his Ted talk he didn’t understand why he was the only elementary aged student talking about the topic and still doesn’t understand why educators wait until students are in high school to highlight student voice. More about Curran and his quest here.
He will be presenting the idea during Edcamp Global on July 30 at 7 am.
Other resources for teachers and leaders
Created by Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt in collaboration with a larger working group, this is perhaps my favourite resource. It aligns with my thinking about situating learning of using social media in context and is a comprehensive, thoughtful and thorough approach. It is framed around Mike Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship I also really appreciate the guides found within the document.
The OSAPAC Digital Citizenship resource is an excellent and comprehensive resource created for Ontario teachers and leaders but which is useful to any educator. Our District used it as one of the key resources for its Digital Discipleship framework. The resource is grounded in research and has practical and positive lesson plans. It is divided up into both elementary and secondary around the following themes:
Common Sense media offers a continuum of skills offered by topic beginning from kindergarten to grade 12. Lessons are available as PDF downloads, as well as Nearpod lessons, and iBooks (for purchase) for an agnostic experience for students. They are organized in the following way:
Media Smarts is a Canadian resource for digital and media literacy and is grounded on ongoing national research on Canadian children and teens and their experiences with networked technologies. The resources are relevant to any educator. They use the following framework:
IKeepSafe is a non-profit organization which adopts a global citizen approach. ” It contends that modern technologies like telephones, television, and most of all, the Internet, allow for a global society where individuals can access information from around the world—in real time—despite being thousands of miles from the source of the content (Searson et al, 2015). This is how they organize their topics.
In the newly revised standards put out by the International Society. It is useful as a point of reference for educators.
Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.
Couros, A., & Hildebrandt, K. (2015). Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools. Retrieved from http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/11/83322-DC%20Guide%20-%20ENGLISH%202.pdf
Jenkins, H., Itō, M., & boyd, d. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. Wiley.
Searson, M., Hancock, M., Soheil, N., & Shepherd, G. (2015). Digital citizenship within global contexts. Education and Information Technologies, 20(4), 729-741. doi:10.1007/s10639-015-9426-0