This week we were asked to look at ISTE Teaching Standard 4, “Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.
Encouraged by Jason Ohler’s article on Digital Citizenship, I set out to see how I could support my school to be more proactive rather than reactive to internet safety. Ohler made several points that resonated with me. His explanation of “character education” allowed me to reflect on my current school, previous school, personal education, and stories I’ve heard from friends. We can’t wait for our students to navigate the digital world and ask questions, we need to provide guidance to our students as well as their families. In a world that inundates us with media, we need to guide our students through intentional thought processes rather than let them develop their own moral compass over time. We need to create opportunities for digital education and invest in ethical inventory resources not just tech resources.
Immediately several questions came to mind about my own school district.
- How does my district support teachers and students to be responsible digital citizens?
- What training and education is provided for staff and parents?
- What curriculum / resources are commonly used in the district and at what grade levels?
- Who are the decision makers?
I first contacted someone from our district IT department who serves schools in my region. Then I reached out to my librarian, who is only at our school part time. I posed these four questions (see above). The responses were similar on each question. Our district is so large and digital devices vary greatly both in brand and quantity depending on the school. With 99 schools, we do not have a unified approach other than librarians infusing some Common Sense Media lessons into their library time. Some schools have been able to fund Technology Instructors in K-5 schools who teach Digital Citizenship, but it varies depending on the school. Our decision makers appear to be our school board, staff at the district level, and admin. In regards to technology and digital citizenship, it appears that our community, families, and students have little to no input. We do have links on our district website, but only in English.
My biggest challenge is finding online resources available in other languages. Common Sense Media has Spanish option, but how do schools such as mine support the other families in understanding internet usage and digital citizenship? We have ¼ of our families that need translation support. My quest led me to Michael Gorman’s blog, sharing 10 resources for teaching Digital Citizenship. Gorman provided great resources, with an abundance from Common Sense Media, yet most only appeared to be offered in English. I can only imagine showing a video to the families at my school and having to pause constantly to allow translation to be shared in 6 or more languages. There has to be something more efficient!
The one resource Gorman shared that truly came through for me was from Australia. Navigating a few quick clicks I discovered The Parent’s Guide to Online Safety. The Australian Government provides online safety for parents in 15 different languages. Although the guide provides contacts in Australia, the bulk of the information applies to strategies to support families with issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, unwanted contact, social networking, and having children who spend too much time online. If resources exist like this in other languages in the US, I’ve had a hard time finding them. Which leads me to believe a lot of the families I serve would also struggle with finding this information.
Supporting Families in Digital Education
Technology is constantly changing, students catch on to trends, explore new websites and share apps way before we catch on. According to David Andrade’s article earlier this month, more than 75% of teens now own cell phones and more than 90% communicate online. These facts alone are reason to ensure parents are aware of support systems that exist, parental controls, ways to report abuse, etc. Take for example a story from Connecticut three years ago. A new social media app, YikYak, allowed users to post messages anonymously. Anyone active on the site within a mile and half radius could see the message. A high school in Westport, CT. became inundated with hateful speech, citing racist, Islamophobic, sexist, and homophobic comments. By the end of the first day, most of the students with access to cell phones had downloaded the app. The school staff were in shock. It is because of the unknown that we need to explicitly teach Digital Citizenship. We need to be able to educate parents on how to monitor what their children are doing and provide tools for them to have meaningful conversations at home.
With 6,000 ELL students, and nearly 14,000 students from non-English speaking homes, we should provide similar resources to Australia’s Online Safety Guide in the 8 languages we offer translation for. These should be on our website accessible for families, students, and staff. At present, schools in my district tend to approach most incidents on a case by case basis. A large percentage of our families do not have internet at home and many parents may be unaware what their children are exposed to. This does not prevent their children from being protected from cyber bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, or understanding the consequences of sharing on social media.
I want to continue advocating for our ELL families and in this particular case, that means helping develop resources that are shared in the top 8 languages. Having these resources available on our district website accessible for parents and staff is the first step. Sharing these resources with parents and staff will be the next step. How can we truly expect parents to model expected behaviour without giving clear expectations, support, and guidelines? With 55,000 students in our district, I think we can do better. As educators it’s time we model responsible internet use and promote digital education for families in addition to students.
- Andrade, D. (2017, May 15). Teaching Students Digital Civility Goes Hand-in-Hand with Tech Rollouts. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2017/05/teaching-students-digital-civility-goes-hand-hand-tech-rollouts
- Ernst, A., & Harmoush, V. (2014, June 20). Teaching digital citizenship in a ‘yakking’ world. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/6/20/teaching-digitalcitizenshipinaayyakkingaworld.html
- Gorman, M. (2017, February 27). 10 Digital Citizenship Resources – Web in the Classroom Part 3. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from https://www.k12blueprint.com/blog/michael-gorman/10-digital-citizenship-resources-web-classroom-part-3
- Ohler, J. (2012). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Education Digest. 77(8). pp. 14-17. Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age