About Me

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, I have taken a leap into library media.
This blog chronicles my experiences making this transition and my learning in that process.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Your CyberSelf: Teaching Digital Citizenship

Lately I have been asked a lot about teaching digital citizenship: how to do it and how to know the students are exhibiting it. My answer is usually that teaching digital citizenship -- a focus of my role as a library media specialist -- is very much like teaching citizenship -- the focus of my previous role as a social studies, in particular American Government, teacher. In my prior role I could teach students the ins and outs of the democratic process, the importance of having a voice in the decision making process, and the history of people fighting for suffrage... but I couldn't make them vote. And now, I can teach my students the importance of being a good citizen in the digital world, but how can I make them be one?

A former colleague and now the head of school at one of my previous schools devoted her doctoral work to studying mindfulness and how increased mindfulness by a learning community improves the school climate and enhances student learning and achievement. @JbhsPin often quotes Viktor E. Frankl's statement: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response." Digital citizenship hinges on creating or expanding that space.

If you are my age you remember the days of walking down the hallway at school and shoving a note through the vents in a friend's locker. Some people shoved unkind notes through locker vents. But, more often than not, I believe, the time it took to walk the halls of the school and find the target locker created that space between the stimulus that prompted the writing of an unkind message and the response of slipping it through the vents of the recipient's locker. I think, if Frankl is to be believed, that hallway walk created the space necessary for better angels to prevail in many cases. What makes today different is the immediacy with which a response to a stimulus can be created and disseminated. A challenge of digital citizenship education is to prompt students to be mindful, to breathe before posting, to reflect on their response before sending their response, to consider whether that response is something they want to be permanently etched into their digital profile.

It was with mindfulness as our guide that we created the first in our three-lesson digital citizenship series. We began with "Permanence." And we will teach it through the metaphor of a tattoo. Students are going to be asked to design a tattoo for themselves, something that, if they could, they would go out this afternoon and get inked. They might start by looking at the work of a famous tattoo artist like Bang Bang. They don't have to share their design; this tattoo could be anywhere on their body so it doesn't have to be something the world will see. Next, they will be asked to design a new tattoo, one that will be visible every day. And they will be asked to compare the two designs and reflect on their similarities and differences. We will culminate with a discussion of tattoo removal... what happens if ten years from now you don't want that tattoo anymore? What can you do? Of course, it is possible to remove a tattoo, but that process is painful and leaves scars. Thus, the metaphor for the students' digital presence comes full circle: always post assuming the world will see what you say; know that you may take down a post that is hurtful, but the damage can not be undone; think before you post of the ramifications of what you say; and when you post, do so with the intention of productively contributing to a dialogue.

Now, if time allowed, I would love to make a video of my new colleagues who have tattoos talking about what they have, when they got inked, why they chose their design, and whether they ever have regretted it. Personally I have four tattoos. My daughter calls them watermarks. I got each at a significant time in my life and each marks a milestone in my life and growth. I think I can say the same about my digital tattoos. Maybe it is because I remember the days of dropping notes instead of sending snapchats. I consciously remove my hands from a device when I begin to feel heated about something. The challenge of teaching cyber citizen students to be good digital citizens is creating that space, that moment of reflection. We need to teach them to approach every digital interaction with the same caution that they might employ when they hear the buzz of the tattoo needle.

More on our other lessons, Privacy and Productivity, in future posts.

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