Thursday, September 7, 2017

Teaching Digital Citizenship Starts with Empathy

In my last post I commented that the challenge of teaching cyber citizen students to be good digital citizens is helping them create space, a moment of reflection, between stimulus and response. Teaching them to be mindful. We need to help our students to approach every digital interaction with the same caution that they might employ when they hear the buzz of a tattoo needle. Building empathy is the key to helping students hit the pause button rather than acting (or posting) on impulse.

I have long been a fan of the This I Believe series. When I was a social studies teacher I used these essays as models of personal essays and helped students deconstruct the stylistic and rhetorical devices employed by the authors of these essays. By carefully selecting models, I was providing my students with essay exemplars, for sure, but also with models of good judgment and lessons about being part of a community. One of my favorite This I Believes is "Be Cool to the Pizza Dude" by Sarah Adams. I can almost recite her essay from memory.

Adams' essay is making an appearance in the digital citizenship lesson we are delivering next week. After we listen to the NPR recording of Adams reading her essay. Students are going to talk about her four principles that underpin her belief in coolness to the pizza dude: "Coolness to the pizza delivery dude is a practice in humility and forgiveness.... in empathy.... in honor and it reminds me to honor honest work.... [and] in equality." We are going to ask them to consider not just her principles, but the examples she uses to explain and explore her principles and discuss which ones matter to them.

Next we are going to explain the concept of mindfulness and point out that it is embedded in Adams' discussion of her relationhip with the pizza dude and ask students what strategies they do or can employ when they are interacting with someone (actually or digitally) to be mindful, be "cool". This question is a lead into having them break into small groups and access the community guidelines for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat and identify where in those companies standards they can find Adams' principles.

Now we can bring it back to our school. Posted in every classroom and elsewhere throughout our building are the schools core values and beliefs.

All members in the... community engage in a collaborative, learning partnership that empowers... graduates to inquire, interpret, and communicate in and across disciplines using a variety of media. We share common beliefs and values that guide all community members in demonstrating civic and personal engagement, both in and out of the classroom. We strive for academic excellence and personal development through a safe and supportive school climate.

Students will compare this statement with the tenets published by the social media companies and, again, Adams. They will collect their thoughts on a set of Google slides which can be printed and posted in the actual classroom and posted as community agreements in the teachers' Google classrooms.