What a whirlwind of learning we’ve all be thrown into in the past couple of weeks! Few of us were prepared to start executing the emergency remote teaching we’ve had to learn so quickly, and those of us who have had ANY experience with distance learning courses know how much goes into the planning stages of a successful one. Being thrown into this circumstance with little to no time for preparation leaves most of us feeling pretty stressed out. We all find ourselves doing the best we can now to help our students without seeing them face to face. Not exactly what any of us signed up for, right?
And then, along with all of the other things you’re all having to learn so quickly, I want to throw in digital citizenship stuff, too? I imagine that if you’ve even read this far, you’re thinking, “Sure, Nancy. Exactly what I needed. One more thing to do.”
But the thing is, friends, this is really a PERFECT opportunity for you to start teaching those digital citizenship skills that you might have been putting off when you were all in your classrooms. You are, by necessity, being forced to interact with your students virtually now, whether that is synchronously (in real time) or asynchronously (at each person’s convenience, by recorded videos, discussion boards, etc.). My #digcit nerd friends and I are always stressing the importance of teaching digital citizenship authentically. And I’m not sure how things could get much more authentic than they are right now.
So in the spirit of keeping things simple, I offer you three-and-only-three tips to think about as you maneuver your new role as a remote learning facilitator:
If you’d like additional tips on how to get your kids engaged with digital citizenship topics, check out the app I created with Glide – Everyday #DigCit has lots of talking points and questions to get your students thinking about their digital lives.
Don’t forget to take a break from your devices, too, and to remind your students to do the same. And do some slow, deep breathing as you remember that we’re all in this thing together.
What strange times these are! Only a couple of weeks ago, I was out at a mall doing some shopping, and a whole bunch of other people were doing the same. My husband and I were starting to make plans for an anniversary vacation in May. I was furiously planning several different professional learning sessions for the summer. I did my usual Sunday morning yoga class. Scoring some toilet paper did not elicit a celebratory social media post.
And then, just this past Monday (is it really only 6 days ago?), I went to work. Yes, I tried to stay in my own area and keep my germs to myself, and people were perhaps a little more subdued than they might normally have been on the Monday after Spring Break, but we were there. Monday evening, I got an email from my yoga studio saying they were temporarily closing, in accordance with city recommendations. Tuesday, our department at work was allowed to work from home, provided we came up with some Zoom sessions on how to do remote learning (which we did, by the way – and I am terribly proud of what we accomplished with about 12 hours’ notice!) Also Tuesday, my yoga studio was starting to offer classes via Zoom. By Wednesday, everyone in our service center was told to work from home.
I keep hearing people say “these are unprecedented times,” and certainly that is true. In our lifetime, we have had neither a health scare of this magnitude, nor the technology to keep us all connected in spite of our semi-quarantines. But aren’t all times unprecedented, really? At the beginning of 2019, I had six people in my small nuclear-ish family; by this date last year, I was down to only four. And those four of us were all reeling from the unpredictable/unprecedented events that had befallen us. The fact that those dark and scary times were happening (seemingly) only to me did not negate the reality of unprecedented-ness. I’m guessing anyone who might be reading this has also had times of personal unprecedented-ness: times you would never willingly go back to but that will stay with you forever.
Remember that as unprecedented as these times are, every moment of our life is actually unprecedented. The best gift I get from my yoga practice is that of learning (over and over and over again) to stay in the moment. Each beautiful, unprecedented, unique moment.
I’m actually not a country music fan and would not be able to pick Tim McGraw out of a lineup, but these lyrics came into my head today, and I think they are good ones to keep in mind, regardless of the kind of times in which we find ourselves:
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying
Speak sweeter today to the people who are working in the grocery store or pharmacy. Speak sweeter to the Amazon driver, mail carrier, trash collector, yard guy. Speak especially sweetly and send out all the possible good energy you can muster to health care workers who are feeling the brunt of this unprecedented time more than any of the rest of us. And love the people in your family a bit deeper.
When I’m not delivering professional development or talking/thinking/dreaming about digital citizenship, I’m either reading, walking my dog, or doing yoga. Yesterday at yoga, I got an inspiration for this blog post: let’s make social media more like yoga! If you’re scratching your head a bit at that thought, allow me to explain.
My yoga studio is a lovely, warm, inviting place, and because it’s been so successful, the adorable owner, Samantha, was able to open a second location. The grand opening of that new studio was held yesterday. Everyone wanted to congratulate Sam and see the beautiful new space, so it was a bit crowded. The room, obviously, only holds so many people, and we were all feeling a little comfortably crowded – and then someone else showed up. So we scooched our mats a little and made room for the new person. Then, two additional people walked in. Same thing. Then, FOUR MORE people wanted to join. Right as the clock was striking 9:00 (when the door is locked and class begins), one more person who was brand new to yoga stood timidly at the door, not knowing where to go. Once more, we all waved her in, adjusted our spacing, and absorbed her into the space of the room. Our yoga studio uses props like soft blocks and blankets; obviously there were not enough of these for everyone in such a crowded studio. And when the teacher asked if anyone would be willing to share props, you should have seen all the hands go up, waving their blocks, and offering them to anyone else who might need one. Because we were all so cozy and close, the teacher also had us do some crazy hard pose near the end where we were pressing against each other’s hands for support, all up and down the line of mats. I was the weak link on that one, I can tell you.
As I looked around at everyone being happy for Samantha and her beautiful new space, I thought, wow: this is the very best of humanity right here. People welcoming others, sharing what they have, and laughing together at an impossibly silly yoga pose fail. (Ok, maybe SOME of the participants found success on that one, but I was not among them.)
And because I have that digital citizenship thing on my radar like ALL THE TIME, this morning I was reading this terrific opinion piece by Leonard Pitts, Jr titled The Perils of Online Shaming. Pitts states that “there is something about the anonymity of social media that does not encourage us to be our best selves.” Boy, ain’t it the truth. I got to thinking about the scenario I described above and what it might have looked like if it had played out on Twitter instead of in real life. The tamest comments might have looked something like this:
You should have gotten here earlier! OMG. <eye roll emoji>
Coming in at the last minute, and you’re BRAND NEW? Not everyone would expect to get a spot with that kind of entitled attitude. Just sayin’.
I can’t believe the owner didn’t plan better for this crowd. She should have known there would be this many people.
I bet she’s the type who is always late to work , too. I’m tweeting a video of this outrageous behavior – c’mon, Twitter, let’s identify her and figure out who her employer is. #lateisnotgreat #beontimeforcryingoutloud #toomanymatsintheyogastudio #rookieyogamistakes #sincewhenisitfashionabletoonlygettoyogatwominutesbeforeclassstarts
You get the idea.
Moral outrage. Righteous indignation. I’m a little weary of this shaming cultured we find ourselves in right now. Then again, shaming has certainly been around a long time, probably since, like, forever. Maybe it’s just a part of our DNA.
But then again, kindness has been around a while, too, and the optimist in me wants to believe that’s just as big a part of our DNA.
The next time you see a snarky post on Twitter or Facebook – and it probably won’t take long for that to happen – imagine there is another side to the story. Imagine there is a human who has feelings, and who might be struggling with something difficult. Even remember that about the snarky person who made the unflattering post. Scooch over a little and make room for that person, even if they’re doing something you don’t especially agree with. (Maybe ESPECIALLY if they’re doing something you don’t agree with.) Share what you have. Welcome them. Build a relationship when you can. Because I can tell you, you’ll feel pretty good when you act like that. And maybe you’ll even restore someone else’s faith in humanity a bit, too.
For years now, I have wanted to build an app for Digital Citizenship, one that would give teachers a variety of simple activities and talking points for doing that “seamless integration into what you’re doing anyway” that we in the #DigCit world always talk about. I was thinking that I would develop it and then sell it, and that it would be a source of retirement income. But the wonderful folks at Glide have made it so easy to build a free app from a Google Sheet that although my dream is coming true, I won’t be making any money off it. But I don’t even care because this is seriously EXACTLY what I’ve wanted.
What Glide has done is take a Google sheet I created and turned it in to a beautiful little app that I’m hoping will be very useful to educators who want to know how to incorporate digital citizenship every day. It’s still in a very “beta” stage, but you can take a look at how it’s shaping up at http://digcit.glideapp.io. Within each of the grade levels shown at right are 5 broad categories that pertain to digital citizenship: Safety & Security, Communication, Personal Ethics, Information Literacy, and Advocacy. And within THOSE categories are multiple sub-categories like Empathy, Screen Time, or Intellectual Property, just to name a few. And each of those sub-categories contains one or more questions or statements – just that one bite-sized talking point that might spark a conversation about digital citizenship that hopefully won’t feel like “just one more thing.”
And here is where I’d like to invite you to help participate in this project! I’m betting you have an idea of what might be a good topic or one-liner that should be included in this app. Or maybe you have an idea for an additional direction this app might go. Please add your ideas to this spreadsheet. (Be a good digital citizen yourself and don’t delete anyone else’s ideas. 😉 ) I hope that this app will become a terrific crowd-sourced resource for those educators who really would like to address digital citizenship in their classes but might just not be sure about where to start or what to say. Questions? Email me at email@example.com.
One of my favorite yoga teachers has a gift for words and language, and as a CWN (Certified Word Nerd), I love what she has to say and how she says it. One of her oft-said phrases is “Reach for nothing; push nothing away.” She says this while we are bent into some unusual body shapes. But she means it in general, I think.
This phrase must have been on my mind when I offered up to the universe several weeks ago a semi-prayer. “Universe,” I said, “what is next for me in this life?” Sometimes the universe takes awhile to answer; other times answers come quickly. I was just barely paying attention when the universe answered. Here is what happened next.
I went to a meeting of a bunch of regional Instructional Technology geeks on November 6. A colleague told me about a job opening. Although I hadn’t been reaching for a new job, I got my resume together and applied. I was sick as a dog the day of the interview; I dragged myself out of bed, tried to make myself look presentable, and did my best, but I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about the interview itself. When it was over, I came home, changed clothes, flopped back on my bed, and stayed there for another six hours without moving.
But: I was offered the job. So then I had a dilemma. I love my current job! My coworkers are fantastic, I am well respected, I mostly know the correct answer if someone asks me a question about a program or policy. The new job does not pay more. SHOULD I TAKE THIS NEW JOB WITH ALL ITS UNKNOWNS???
Reach for nothing; push nothing away. Universe, what is next for me?
I talked over my decision with a few people. One trusted friend gently pointed out that neither decision would be a bad one. (She was right about that.) Another friend had recently changed jobs, and she shared that she’d had similar thoughts before deciding to accept her new position: What am I doing? What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t take it and hope for something to come around “some other time”? If I don’t take it, I’ll be “the girl who said no,” and I might not get another chance. What to do, what to do.
I hadn’t reached for the job; the universe seemed to present it to me on a platter. I chose not to push it away. So after 18+ years in my current district, I’ll be starting fresh as a Digital Learning Consultant at Region 10 ESC on January 3. I’m really excited about a fresh start at this point in my career. I’m looking forward to learning new things, helping new people, and having new experiences with another terrific team. Yes, I will desperately miss so many of the educators I’ve come to know and love in my current job. Yes, there will be a learning curve on How They Do Things at the new gig and I will probably screw up a time or two. Yes, I am completely unaware of where the bathrooms are. But I am proud of myself for not pushing away this opportunity.
Whoever gets to sit in my current chair next is in for a treat, because (as I have said so many times in the past), I have had the good fortune to have the best co-workers in the world. I like to think that I am creating space and opportunity for someone else who might even now be making a supplication to the universe. #TeamAwesome will continue to be an awesome team.
I hope the universe delivers great things to each of you in 2019. Push nothing away.
Every week I look forward to my favorite 75-minute Deep Stretch yoga class. It’s a delicious and therefore very popular class, so I always try to arrive early so I can find a spot and get settled in. Today the spot I selected was about a mat’s length away from the front corner of the room, and I knew I might be crowding someone who might want to lay his or her mat down in that space. I didn’t have a whole lot of room to back up, though, and spots were going quickly, so I eyeballed the space I was leaving in the corner and hoped for the best.
As it got closer to the time for class to start, a woman did approach that space, and she started to roll her mat out in the spot. She was somehow holding her mat, a water bottle, her gym bag, her flip-flops, a yoga blanket, and a couple of yoga blocks, so she was pretty laden down. I asked her if she had enough room and told her I would try to move back a little. She said she thought she had enough room, but looked at all the stuff she had dumped on the floor near her and said, “I just have all this baggage.”
“Don’t we all,” I said and smiled, and she and the others around me laughed knowingly.
Those of us who go to yoga do it for probably somewhat similar reasons. We want to be more flexible. We want better balance. We are more about improvement than about meeting a particular once-and-done goal. We feel better physically and mentally when we practice yoga than when we don’t.
My Saturday morning yoga instructor is Lisa, and I love her class for many reasons, not least of which are her humor and her wry word choice. She and the other yoga instructors have some great catch phrases that work really well off the mat, too. (It’s almost like they do that on purpose.) When I compare yoga to life off the mat, I often think about this ISTE poster and blog:
I’ll be leading an ISTE Certification Train-the Trainer session again in a few days, and one of the opening activities (spoiler alert) encourages participants to consider how each of the ISTE Standards for Educators is similar to a yoga pose. This time out, I hope to remember to drop in some of my favorite phrases that I’ve heard my yoga teachers say.
“We’re looking for functional flexibility.” I have turned this term over and over in my mind, and I really like it for so many reasons. We try to get physically more flexible in yoga, sure – but cognitive, social, and emotional flexibility are so important, too. Being cognitively flexible allows us to look at problems from different perspectives or design new experiences for our students. Social flexibility means that we know there are different ways to behave in different social situations and different ways to communicate depending on our audience and established group norms. Emotional flexibility means that I don’t necessarily *have* to have exactly the same emotional reaction every time that coworker or relative says something off-putting.
“Everyone is put together with different glue.” Differentiation, anyone? All of us have different needs, and those needs change even within a single person from day to day. Education is such an art! Think about all those ever-changing needs and how they all contribute to classroom dynamics each day (or each hour). It’s okay – even essential – to make instructional modifications based on the particular “glue” that is holding a student (or you) together on a given day.
“Perfect is the enemy of good.”When it comes to ed tech, I sometimes feel that teachers think that they have to use it perfectly on the first try. And that if they don’t use the tool “perfectly” on the first try, then they just won’t use it at all. My personal corollary to this one is “Doing something is better than doing nothing”: even though I might *intend* to get to yoga 3 or 4 times a weeks, I know I feel better if I make it only once a week. So I like to encourage our teachers, especially in the area of my favorite subject, digital citizenship, that taking even a small, imperfect step is much better than not doing anything at all. Ignoring the necessity of #digcit instruction altogether is just not good for anyone. I encourage you to try something new and innovative in your classroom this week – even if it doesn’t come out on the first try exactly the way you had imagined it.
“Nothing is good for everyone all the time.” We talk to teachers all the time about why specific technology tools are not written in to our curriculum. There is an art to selecting the best instructional strategy for a particular learning goal and set of learners, and this is perhaps especially true in the area of educational technology. The best tech tool for one teacher and his or her learners is dependent on many factors: What devices are available in that classroom? How comfortable with technology is the teacher? What is that particular group of learners like; could they handle more independent tasks or do they need more instruction? (Pro tip: those “digital natives” do NOT automatically know how to get the most out of every technology tool that comes their way, the first time they see it.)We try our best to help our teachers think through these questions as they consider ed tech implementation in their classrooms. We customize our recommendations so that teachers can join the ed tech conversation at any point where they are comfortable. We give lots of options for modifications if teachers aren’t ready for a more challenging technology. We stress that just because their neighbor across the hall is using a particular tool, that doesn’t mean that a) it’s being used appropriately and b) that’s the best tool in every situation. Teachers (and yogis) are different and are at different stages of learning. So if you are one of those teachers who compare themselves to others, remember that sometimes you need to close your eyes and mind your own mat.
This week as you go about your teaching, consider some of these lessons from yoga: start where you are, work with others, stretch yourself a little, strive for balance, and don’t forget to breathe! And above all, remember that we all have baggage, so be sure to save room for those who seem especially laden down.
P.S. Shoutout to my favorite yoga studio, The Mat. If you’re in the North Dallas area and are looking for a yoga home, The Mat might be just the place for you!
I gotta admit that sometimes I feel like a lone voice shouting into the void with this digital citizenship thing I always go on about. I feel like I’ve been that little whack-a-mole person popping up annoyingly to say, “Yoo-hoo, over here – digital citizenship is important, remember? Don’t forget to talk to your kids about it!” for years now. Maybe some of you have experienced this before; you’re super passionate about something and want the world to know why they should care too – but you feel like you’re the only one on the planet with your level of enthusiasm.
But a few things have happened recently in my district that make me think my efforts are starting to pay off. And I have to tell you, that feels pretty good.
Exhibit A: At least two campuses last year kicked off school-wide digital citizenship initiatives (here is a presentation about one school’s year-long plan). And we had a strong emphasis on digital citizenship at this year’s ETSI (our district’s Ed Tech Success Initiative), so I know many other teachers and campuses have a greater awareness about digital citizenship and have created personal and school-wide goals that focus on growing digital citizens.
Exhibit B: A couple of weeks ago, I heard from a teacher in my district who had attended the keynote session I presented at the back-to-school professional development for secondary teachers. In his email he wrote, “I really loved your speech at inservice and I think teaching the kids #digcit is very important!” And as if that one line weren’t enough to fill my bucket for a year or two, he sent me a link to a rap that he and one of his co-workers created:
I have watched it about a gazillion times already, and it still makes me smile every time! (Shoutout to @rareorionscienc – seriously, how fun is that video?!) I am hoping that other schools will be challenged to create something similar and will also get their students involved in creating, too!
And then she sent me a DM with some additional info:
“DigCit is a state of mind and not a lesson” is a message I’ve been trying to convey for several years now. I often recommend using “#digcit teachable moments” and “#digcit life lessons” – as opposed to a stand-alone lesson or curriculum – as the best way to teach and model what digital citizenship looks like in real life, so I was especially pleased to see that Kim took advantage of that teachable moment to point out how important “tone and relevance” are in digital spaces.
It’s so exciting to me to see these pockets of digital citizenship education continuing to grow and develop! What about YOU? How are your efforts in #DigCit coming along? I’d love to know about what’s working for you; feel free to comment here or reach out to me on Twitter (@nancywtech). Have a great week, everyone!
Do you remember being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Although I vaguely remember that question when I was a kid, I’m honestly not sure whether people in my family ever asked me that. It was a given that I would go to college; that was What We Did. But as I try to remember a time when I was encouraged to “be something,” the only memory I have is of my mother and stepfather discouraging me from being a French major in school. In my mother’s small world, she could never imagine that I would travel, and they both assured me that “people who only speak two languages couldn’t be an interpreter at the United Nations.” As though that would be the only benefit in knowing a second language! (And I’m sure they didn’t see the slightest irony in the fact that they each spoke only one language.)
Anyway. Although I did start out as a French major, I kept coming back to the feeling I had when my kindergarten teacher let me stay at the table finishing up the drawing of my lion, even though it was time to go to circle time. So I decided to be an Early Childhood teacher. So many of us became teachers because of some influential teacher in our lives. How I loved being a preschool teacher! And how exhausting a room full of four-year-olds seems now!
I also wanted to be a mom, so I had a couple of kids and believed that all my preschool background and experiences would provide me with the knowledge and skills I needed to be a Great Mom. (Talk about irony.) How I loved being able to stay home with my kids! But for lots of reasons, it became clear that I wouldn’t stay home with them forever, and I started thinking about going back to work. When Kid #1 went to kindergarten, he had the most awesome librarian ever. I decided maybe that was what I wanted to be, so I went to library school. And I could never have predicted the career path I have had since I took my first job as a middle school librarian.
How I loved being a librarian! I got to know almost every kid in the school, worked with fabulous teachers, and read astonishingly great Young Adult literature. I like to think I was a solid instructional partner, and I clumsily tried to be a technology leader. I am still fairly astounded at how my (then extremely limited) understanding of the power of technology in education led me to my current position as a Digital Learning Specialist. I mean, come on – FOUR positions with this job title in the whole school district, and I managed to snag one of them? What are the odds? I am humbled every day by my great good fortune to have this career in a fabulous school district.
And how I love THIS job! I have learned so much in the past decade-plus – much of which is about what I wish I’d done differently in the classroom or library. The past few years especially, when I finished up my second Master’s, became a leader in the Digital Citizenship conversation, and was invited to write curriculum for ISTE, have grown me as a professional and as a person more than I would ever have imagined. Most recently, being one of the writers and trainers for the ISTE Certified Educator program has made me reflect even more deeply about what it is I want to be.
One of my smart co-workers describes the ISTE Standards for Educators as “not things to do, but ways to be.” Now when I think about what I want to be, the choice is less about having a particular position or job title, but about how I can apply these standards in what I’m doing in my work with other educators. Because how I love being all the things! As an Empowered Professional, I want to be a Learner, a Leader, and a Citizen. As a Learning Catalyst, I also aspire to be a Collaborator, a Designer, a Facilitator, and an Analyst. And I want to inspire my students, who are mostly other educators, to Be All the Things as well! So this week, consider how you might:
improve your practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning; be a Learner
seek out opportunities for leadership to support student empowerment and success and to improve teaching and learning; be a Leader
inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world; be a Citizen
dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems; be a Collaborator
design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability; be a Designer
understand and use data to drive your instruction and support students in achieving their learning goals; be an Analyst
These things to be are not things that are once-and-done; we never check them off the list and call it complete. Maybe you’ll choose to focus on just one or two standards; maybe you’ll want to do bits and pieces of all of them. However you decide to approach the ISTE Standards, I hope they will help to grow your thinking a bit on what you want to be.
And also remember that wonderful sign I’ve seen in so many schools lately, “In a world where you can be anything, be KIND.” Have a great week!
P.S. Intrigued about the ISTE Standards and how they might impact your learners? Contact me or your favorite Digital Learning Specialist! We’ll talk your ear off about them!
It’s back to school time, and I was THRILLED to have an opportunity this past Monday to address our secondary teachers on my favorite topic. Back in December, I had been asked to put the event on my calendar, and I had assumed it would be the usual “three rotations, expect 25ish people at each session” kind of thing – and I was pretty excited about sharing my #DigCit message with as many as 75 educators in one day.
But a couple of weeks before the event, I was asked how I’d feel about doing more of a keynote-type presentation. Twice. With about 850 educators at each sitting. Ummm – impressing upon almost 1700 teachers in one day the importance of including digital citizenship in their daily routines? Hello – yes, please! Sign me up for my dream come true, and do it fast before you change your mind!
So I walked into this room Monday morning and thought: Gulp. Well. Ok then.
I got there plenty early and had all kinds of tech problems. (You know what I always say about tech: It’s *supposed* to work.) Our wonderful tech crew worked diligently to switch out devices and test the sound and get the wifi working, and at 8:27 I was ready for my 8:30 start.
And of course there were tech glitches, but I had a very benevolent audience and I managed to laugh my way through the parts that were completely uncooperative. If you were in the audience in the morning, I thank you for your good will. And I’m so gratified that my message seems to have been well-received! Many of our teachers made a #digcitcommit pledge on Twitter or on this Mentimeter, and I’m excited to see where our district goes this year as a result of getting people talking about digital citizenship.
At the end of my first talk, one of the staff members from the event center approached me and said, “That was interesting. Where do trolls fit in to all of that?” That was a question I had never gotten before and certainly not one I had been expecting. So I stammered around a bit and said something like, “Well, you know how I talked about establishing a culture of positive norms – what I’d like to see is that it becomes socially unacceptable to be a troll. Oh, and don’t feed them.” His sidekick eagerly jumped in with, “Yeah, don’t feed the trolls!” The first guy continued and said, “Yeah, but what if they’re just being funny? And what about the 1st Amendment?”
So then it dawned on me: Ok, so HE is probably a troll. <insert eye roll emoji here>
In my talks I mentioned, as I often do, that cultural norms often change over time; where we once had a nation of smokers, it’s now hard to find a restaurant that isn’t smoke-free, and where we once had a nation of litterers, we now mostly all throw our trash in the trash cans where it belongs. Thinking on my feet, I said to the Presumed Troll, “The 1st Amendment prevents you from the government throwing you in jail for saying something it doesn’t like. It doesn’t protect you from the consequences of what you might say. Freedom of speech is not a license to be a jerk.” Or words to that effect. In my rosy-eyed view of the world, I like to think that we can create an online culture where it just isn’t acceptable to troll people, for fun or otherwise.
The very next day on my way to work, I heard this NPR story about how Alex Jones is crying censorship over tech companies booting him off their platforms. Twitter does seem to be rather capricious in what it deems offensive content, but it has got me thinking about what censorship really is, and what role censorship might play – or SHOULD play? – in cleaning up the often messy, insulting, and even dangerous arena of online forums and commenting.
Tim Wu, in his New York Times Op-Ed from last November “How Twitter Killed the First Amendment,” writes that in today’s world, we should be less concerned with censorship as governmental suppression of speech, and VERY attuned to the fact that “the world’s most sophisticated censors, including Russia and China, have spent a decade pioneering tools and techniques that are better suited to the internet age.” Obfuscation, disinformation, and dissembling are far more effective forms of controlling a populace. If that doesn’t reinforce to everyone the absolute necessity of media literacy and critical thinking, I don’t know what will. I strongly encourage you to check out the websites of media literacy experts like Julie N. Smith, Renee Hobbs, and Michelle Ciulla Lipkin for some excellent resources. Media Literacy Week is November 5-9, 2018 – but I would implore you, as I do with digital citizenship, to make media literacy a part of ALL of your teaching.
Age-old adages are repeated because they have a lot of truth in them: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Just because you CAN say or do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. You catch more flies with honey. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I like to think that those messages alone would be enough to teach our kids about how to behave online. But while those age-old words might still be true, they won’t be enough. We must be diligent and persistent in getting our students to fact-check, to look at all sides of an argument or debate, and to recognize propaganda and manipulation tools for what they are.
I know what you’re like, dear teachers, and I know that if anyone can do it, you can. I cling to the belief that love and goodness – and a lot of fact-checking – will always have the last word. Have a great year!
When teachers hear the term “digital citizenship” and want to know more about that topic, they often begin with some kind of interest in addressing cyberbullying. Cyberbullying and other risks of the Internet – computer viruses, identity theft, phishing, etc. – are legitimate concerns, of course, and our students certainly need to be aware of these risks. For too long, though, classrooms across the country have been immersed in a digital citizenship narrative that is based only in fear and warnings. Digital citizenship is about so much more than just “not cyberbullying” or “not talking to strangers” or “being nice online.” Although those are certainly components of the topic, there is so much more to digital citizenship. Teachers who focus only on the “don’ts” of online behavior miss a host of opportunities for their students to claim their full rights – and responsibilities – of true digital citizenship.
Teachers are on a spectrum when it comes to digital citizenship instruction. Many teachers are still doing nothing at all to address digital citizenship – they have the “shut it down, lock it up” mentality. Perhaps they believe that if they don’t use social media in their classrooms or allow the students to bring in devices from home, then it’s not in their purview or responsibility to talk about digital citizenship. And with all that teachers have to do these days who can blame them for not wanting to do “one more thing”?
Moving along the spectrum of digital citizenship instruction, a common first step in addressing digital citizenship is often to host a school-wide “Digital Citizenship Day” or “No Cyberbullying!” week. These one-shot efforts are usually very well-intentioned and perhaps even get some good short-term behavior from students. Certainly better than doing nothing at all, these event-based digital citizenship efforts may allow teachers to feel as though they can check digital citizenship off a list; if, several months later, a student makes an egregious error on social media, the teacher can respond, “We told you about this at that assembly last fall.”
Once a teacher or a school decides to address digital citizenship in a more systematic way, they may decide to use pre-packaged lesson plans, such as the excellent materials by Common Sense Media. Maybe the librarian shows these videos in library lessons; maybe it’s the school counselor who does so, or a teacher who intends to do the lesson as an “extra.” A first foray into “teaching digital citizenship” often involves a stand-alone curriculum of some kind. These lessons give teachers a springboard for discussion in the future, but students typically do not absorb concepts of any subject when they are presented in isolation. Digital citizenship is in many ways like sex education: everybody hopes that someone else will do a really good job explaining it – and they hope that the kids “get it” with one explanation. This is unrealistic for so many reasons, and one that teachers would understand as preposterous if applied to any content area concept.
Teachers who are paying attention start to realize that the stand-alone, one-shot efforts they have been using to teach digital citizenship might not be the most effective method, and move along that spectrum of digital citizenship instruction. As years go by, more students have more access to devices or might be requesting more opportunities to use social media in the classroom. Teachers often evolve in their thinking to understand that while the specially designated days or weeks or the stand-alone lessons might be good in the short term – and are certainly much better than doing nothing at all – students need more than a very occasional lesson in order to fully understand and assimilate the many facets of good digital citizenship.
In order to truly learn digital citizenship, students have to DO it. They need many conversations over a lifetime about the importance of empathy. They need to be fully engaged in working with the teacher to set the class norms for digital behavior. Jason Ohler, a pioneer of the digital citizenship movement, is fond of saying that students who are given an opportunity to frame the system are much less likely to game the system. Teachers who involve even young students in the process of positive norm-setting from an early age – on a regular, natural, authentic basis – will normalize positive behavior online, rather than focusing only on the potential dangers (which students are likely to tune out anyway). Students need daily authentic experiences where the teachers both tacitly and explicitly weave a digital citizenship lesson into what the students are doing anyway. Layering digital citizenship into what teachers are doing in their classrooms anyway can make the thought of “doing one more thing” somewhat less overwhelming.
ISTE’s and Metiri’s (2017) new way of looking at the student Digital Citizen standard involves encouraging students to develop a great digital self, to be an effective interactor, and to be proactive agents who use the powers of social media for social good. Looked at in this light (which, by the way, is rooted in all the ISTE standards’ Digital Citizen indicators), it might be easier for teachers to see how these elements might be woven into the fabric of what they are doing in their classrooms. A Digital Self can be promoted every time an eportfolio is mentioned; the teacher could say one extra sentence about “making a good digital first impression.” Additionally, a digital self is rooted in the development of the empathy that is so crucial to the digital citizenship conversation.
Sameer Hinduja, a Twitter friend of mine whom I respect very much, says that students should be regularly involved in conversations about morals, ethics, empathy, and resilience. The first three, he says, should aim to create students with “sensitive hearts,” while the last helps students face and deal with the inevitable conflicts that they will face their entire lives, both online and off. This corresponds to Ohler’s (2017) admonitions to introduce character education that address the needs of digital youth. Incorporating character education in relation to technology and device use within a community context – rather than implying that students’ “real” digital lives can happen only outside school – will help develop each student’s digital self in a positive way.
The Digital Interactor develops when students – even young ones – post and respond to the class social media account or respond to another student’s blog post. It takes very little time in a teacher’s day to remind students of the class norms they’ve established for interacting online, but every sentence or phrase that teachers say becomes a micro digital citizenship lesson. With young students, this might simply involve the teacher complimenting students on their digital communication or the basic courtesy that they use when accessing the class social media account. For older students it could be a discussion about potentially different cultural norms prior to the students engaging in a video conference with a class from another country. If students DON’T interact appropriately, the teacher can use that behavior as a teachable moment and an opportunity to engage students in conversation about more acceptable alternatives, rather than just being reactive and cutting students off from future opportunities.
Students of any age can be challenged to solve social problems of many types, using social media and crowdsourced suggestions to be Digital Agents for good in the world. Teachers who use project- or problem- based learning experiences in their classroom have a natural avenue to talk about students’ agency and the power of the Internet to help people accomplish amazing things. Connecting students to their passions and encouraging them to claim a social justice issue that is important to them supports their agency – and will very likely change the world. Additionally, teachers who help students to understand the implications of their social media use and bridge the gaps in their knowledge can help to level the playing field for students who might not have tech-savvy role models at home (Casa-Todd, 2017).
These three pillars – self, interactor, and agent – create a much more positive framework for addressing digital citizenship. Instead of a narrative of avoidance, fear and risk, imagine what might happen if every teacher in every classroom every day focused the digital citizenship message on opportunity and empowerment, not as “extra” thing but as a natural part of the thing. Imagine what might happen if every student heard these lessons about digital citizenship – not only about “being a good person” both online and off, but also about the duties and obligations of citizenship – every single day throughout the course of their school career! We need to show students what to do, not just continually tell them what not to do. We might have to get a little sneaky about digital citizenship, making it such a seamless part of our classroom that it is as ubiquitous as the air around us. Breathing in that message over and over again, as part of the natural context of what is happening in the classroom anyway, is what will mold our students into the digital citizens that we hope they become.
There is room in this conversation about digital citizenship for everyone, but many voices are currently missing or underrepresented: people of color, parents of all backgrounds, administrators, and especially the students themselves. All are digital citizens! Student voice is an incredibly important and powerful one, and unfortunately is often ignored. Teachers need to listen to students about their experiences online, ask questions, and use student’s knowledge of the mechanics of social media tools. Teachers have much to learn from students – and teachers have the maturity and life experience that students need to guide them in mentoring relationships in digital spaces. Educators also need to engage parents in discussions about digital citizenship on a regular basis, too, opening the door to conversations about their values and expectations for their child’s device use. Parents, too, are on a spectrum regarding their understanding of digital citizenship. They often have many questions about how to help their children use devices appropriately, and they need to be invited to participate in discussions and to join teachers on their digital citizenship journeys.
Few people can be considered true “experts” on the topic of digital citizenship, as it is such an evolving and far-reaching topic. The journey to fully understanding digital citizenship is not a linear one, and in today’s society touches literally everything that a student might be involved in. It is often uncomfortable and scary to change one’s teaching methods to include anything new or different. But if every teacher in every classroom were to mention a concept of digital citizenship just one time every day, that would make a lifetime of difference for our students – and the world.