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What Students Can Teach Us About Digital Citizenship

What Students Can Teach Us About Digital Citizenship

This past April, Samantha, a third grader Val Verde Unified School District, graduated from student to teacher. She stood up in front of an audience of teachers, peers, and technologists and presented a Gooru collection, a playlist of learning resources, that she had created and published. She clicked through the resources she had chosen and explained the logic of their sequence, showing her kid-savvy by saying she started and ended with a game to keep students’ interest. “I made it because I wanted kids to learn a little bit more about geometry and because geometry is my favorite topic,” she said. (See the video of Samantha’s presentation here.)

Samantha and students like her show us that students are natural creators. And, as digital natives, they have an almost instinctual understanding of technology. Whereas Samantha’s creative drive was supported and guided by her teacher and ultimately contributed positively to other students’ learning, we’ve all seen and heard of stories where students were being poor digital citizens. In response to these situations, adults--parents, teachers, administrators, in the educational sphere--have focused on restricting access and reducing ways to share.

However, we’ve learned that students have a lot to say and a lot to teach--we should strive to equip them with the skills and knowledge to do so safely. While teaching good practices on what to do and what not to do on the Internet is important, these practices should follow an initial understanding of the purpose behind good digital citizenship, and why students should strive to be good digital citizens. If students understand the “why” behind the principles of digital citizenship, they will be encouraged to become purposeful and engaged contributors.

To make sure we are fostering trust, collaboration, and safety as students become global contributors at a young age, all stakeholders need to be involved. Digital citizenship and issues of online safety do not exist wholly in either the school or home spheres. Students learn online in school and at home, are surrounded by devices almost 24/7, and use technology for social and personal connections. Many districts, such as Val Verde, have considered it their responsibility to make education around good digital practices a part of their programs. Educators, learners, and supporters at all levels should be a part of the conversation. But when’s the last time you saw a student, teacher, parent, and administrator sit down together? (Probably a disciplinary action meeting).

This past May, at Lakeside Middle School in Val Verde USD, we had the unique opportunity to do just that and facilitate discussions with all these stakeholders around the teaching, learning, and awareness of digital citizenship. The “Design Jam,” as we called it, is a crucial component of the research phase of the Gooru Trust Lab. The Gooru Trust Lab, one of the winners of the 5th Digital Media and Learning Challenge, aims to address issues with fostering trust and safety, digital citizenship, and data privacy as we encourage students to take active roles as contributors in Gooru’s online community. Gooru partnered with EchoUser, a user experience and design firm, as well as Val Verde USD for this project.

After observing innovative students like Samantha as well as a group of Val Verde teachers who are strong contributors to Gooru, the DML Challenge was an opportunity for us to expand the creative process on Gooru to students and support them to share purposefully and safely. Student collections will be shared on Gooru, a free and open online platform for personalized learning. Gooru provides tools to find and remix multimedia learning resources into collections then build entire courses of content punctuated by assessments. In the Gooru Trust Lab, students will have the opportunity to practice their digital citizenship skills by creating collections, as well as projects and materials that will help district-wide understanding and awareness of digital citizenship.

We started the Gooru Trust Lab with the Design Jam to get the input of all stakeholders before ideating concrete deliverables for the Lab. We sat them all down to talk together about what would be most useful and effective for them. So what did they say? Parents said they had spoken with their children about good online practices, were especially concerned about protecting children from online predators, and desired better control of their children’s online privacy settings. Many students had a good instinctive understanding of how to be good digital citizens, though they didn’t remember exactly where or who they had learned it from.

Teachers said that teaching the need for online privacy is important, and that students have a hard time understanding at first why this is important. One teacher said she went to the Instagram accounts of students to show them that public MEANS public and drive home the point in a personal way.

Participants also had the opportunity to ideate their own solutions or awareness campaigns for digital citizenship in mixed groups that included a parent, teacher, and at least a couple students in each. (Take a look at the project presentations here.) Students were concerned with making the material engaging and relevant to other students; teachers wanted an assessment component to know learning was meaningful; parents focused on awareness throughout the community. Though it won’t be possible to complete all the brainstormed projects, we are taking into consideration the common threads running through these. Though it wasn’t the usual classroom environment, teachers were still pushing students to speak up and contribute their opinions--exactly the support we want to give students in an online environment. In the process of sharing, they’re learning why it’s important to have a voice.

Based on the input of the Val Verde community, we are in the brainstorming phase for our approach to the problems, concerns, and insights identified in the Design Jam. Look for improvements to Gooru later on in the school year, as well as student-, teacher-, and parent-created materials to teach the next generation of students about the meaning of digital citizenship and their own potential for purposeful sharing.


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