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Building Digital Citizens @MICDS and beyond

Some stuff just seems harder to teach.  Some standards seem harder to own.

Digital citizenship is a critical element of ISTE’s NETS (standards for students).  It is woven throughout AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Everyday I live, model, and teach citizenship.  But, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t been able to figure out how our/a district or school might teach digital citizenship or weave it into the curriculum in a totally comprehensive and systemic way.  I suspect I am not alone.

At a recent conference in St. Louis, I met Patrick Woessner and discovered his school’s scope and sequence for delivering a digital citizenship curriculum.  Pat shared:  Though many teachers and schools have an interest in digital citizenship, good intentions are not good enough.

The Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS) framed their program around Mike Ribble’s Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship and Ribble and Gerald Bailey’s Digital Citizenship in Schools, which Pat considers the gold standard, informed also by the needs of MICDS‘s own students and independent school environment.  Pat lists a few other inspirations–the Pruitt Mentle C3 Framework, resources from Simple K12, Microsoft’s Digital Citizenship Education,,  and Creative Commons.

After the team at MICDS rolled out their one-to-one laptop program about three years ago, members of the faculty quickly recognized a need to develop a program to hit essential themes on different levels, in different contexts, using different, age-appropriate strategies.

The MICDS pilot began at the middle school level.

According to Pat:

We laid out a coherent plan in spirals and we are working with the faculty to bridge it up and down.  We consciously decided to not rely on one single high profile speaker.  That would not make the big difference in the trenches.

The reason for the initial middle school focus? Pat noted,

5th graders are just starting to do things on their own, just beginning to self-regulate and it is important to help them make good choices.  It is the perfect time to target the effort.

The program is designed to involve all stakeholders:

One things we realized was that our obligation to talk about responsible use does not end at 3:15 at the car pool line. Parents and children had much to learn regarding safety and responsible use and their learning and practice did not end at the end of the school day.  Parents want to do more, but they don’t know how.  It’s hard for adults to say “I don’t know how to parent on this.” It makes them look weak, but realistically, they are not to be able to give good advice in a world they don’t live in.

Technology integrators, librarians and others must step up and take a leadership roll with classroom and content area teachers, as well as parents, if a digital citizenship initiative is to be effective.

Teachers did not grow up with this stuff and are not necessarily equipped to deal with it.  They may have had no exposure in their pre-service programs. They may not use these technologies in their daily lives. It is our responsibility have to keep everyone updated.  We wanted to create content and strategies that were turn-key simple and to train teachers without a ton of prep work.

Pat Woessner admits that though the program has not yet been an unmitigated success, we’ve done a pretty good job of raising awareness across the board.

Designing, implementing, and refining a Digital Citizenship program is not without its challenges.  Although finding adequate time and the proper venue for these conversations can be difficult, the greatest obstacle we face is moving out of our respective comfort zones and embracing our limitations.  Teachers pride themselves on being content-area experts; it’s okay for them not to have all the answers, but they must acknowledge that Digital Citizenship is essential to modern curriculum.

The MICDS team tried to create many of the resources in-house, involving learners in creating video with the help of the school’s drama teacher.  Pat feels that the in-house effort really helped to reach the kids. Students responded especially well to the lessons relating to digital footprints.

They hadn’t thought much about the notion of object permanence as it relates to life online. Everything is permanent.

Here’s one of my favorites, a film featuring students demonstrating our reliance on digital communication:

I asked Pat what he is proudest of.  He responded that he was proudest of the fact that they haven’t given up.  And the fact that we’ve taken a blended approach.  Some of our efforts were created on campus, some were externally created.

There are no easy answers, but if students, parents, and teachers can partner in this endeavor, they no doubt will develop solutions for fostering the appropriate and responsible use of technology.

Additional resources from Pat Woessner:

Digital Citizenship Presentations

Even more resources for building a curriculum on digital citizenship:

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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