What Matters to You, Matters: The Real Value of Digital Citizenship

Posted by: Glen Warren, Encinitas Union School District ‎Literacies & Outreach Coordinator

October 20th, 2015

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In celebration of Digital Citizenship Week, we spoke with Encinitas Union School District ‎Literacies & Outreach Coordinator Glen Warren on the relevancy of digital citizenship curriculum and its impact on student behavior and ambition.

Q:  In your opinion, why is digital citizenship relevant in today’s classroom?

A:  It speaks to the conditions for learning. Digital citizenship falls under the canopy of Information Literacy. As one of the aspects of information literacy, digital citizenship becomes an integral part of the way we teach learners how to learn and how to establish foundational classroom management.

Teachers must establish good citizenship in the classroom. This means setting the foundational conditions for learning. Everybody matters in the classroom. Without this, the culture becomes toxic and you can’t function. Just as we want to create a loving and supportive environment in the physical classroom, that’s exactly what we want to establish in the digital classroom as well.image_4

Q:  What curriculum or classroom activities have you implemented to teach digital citizenship skills?

A:  From a California standpoint, we have a set of state-established standards, the Model School Library Standards, that have four overarching strands: 1) access information, 2) evaluate information, 3) integrate information, and 4) use of information. The “use of information” strand addresses grade level specific learning outcomes for digital citizenship. It addresses the safe, ethical, and legal use of information (strand 3.1).

I was asked by the Imperial County Office of Education to create an entire baseline curriculum to address this specific issue. The biggest challenge I faced in doing so became how to roll it out in a way that included meaningful formative assessment data.

We did not want to take a grade span approach at the elementary stage because there is a major difference between a Kindergartener and a Second grader.  We also did not want to keep repeating the same information to students.  Giving the student the impression that they could not retain information was not the message we wanted to send.

As a result of this thinking we set up the assessment in the following way:

  • Students in kindergarten had only two questions they were accountable for answering
  • First graders then had four new questions, so on and so forth.

This tiered approach was designed intentionally to continue building upon concepts as the students graduated to the next grade level.  Students in each grade level would prepare only for their own grade level material without previous grade level redundancy.

However, when the students in grade levels above kindergarten take their grade level assessments, all the previous grade level test questions reappear.  So students in sixth grade would study their new grade level content in the curriculum, but when it was time to take the assessment, ALL the previous grade level assessment questions would appear including the kindergarten questions.  This reinforces the idea that the previous year’s learning still counts.  Each of the assessment questions are explicitly labeled so the student knows what grade level the question represents.

Upon doing an analysis of the test results, the kids were absolutely glued to the data because (for example) they saw that 25% of their fellow students missed the third grade question, and maybe 40% missed a second grade question. We even had a significant number of kids miss the kindergarten questions. This helped students realize that the previous years’ learning must be carried forward into their lives.   It also gave the teacher a platform to have important conversations with students about reexamining the previous years’ learning.

Statements like this started to appear:  “You need to go back and pull the curriculum from the third grade, pull the curriculum for kindergarten and go back over that, and we will give you the chance to take the test again.”  On the second go-around, we saw virtually every student master the missed material.

Q:  How effective have these lessons been for students? Have you noticed a significant impact (i.e. changes in student behavior)?

A:  I think the pinnacle of this type of awareness is when things  happen online. For example, Edmodo has become an incredibly safe place to teach kids how to do chatrooms and that type of online communication. We had in the past denied them the opportunity to communicate online. But with Edmodo, they have an incredibly safe harbor that looks very Facebook-ish and allows them to have that social interaction, which is why it’s so appealing to the kids.

One tangible example is when a student posted something inappropriate on Edmodo. Two other students, upon seeing this post, chimed in saying: “You know, when you are frustrated and you want to vent, you really shouldn’t vent here because everybody sees it. You should go to the person directly.” And the student who had posted agreed saying: “Yah, you are right. I should have done it that way. I will delete this.”  

I captured this dialogue and took it to the principal. The principal said: “Should I bring the kid in and punish him?”  I said: “No, let’s instead bring the two kids in here who stood up and recognize them for being people who are helping create a positive culture at our school.” And so we did. Lesson learned.

Q:  How can digital citizenship become more prevalent in schools? Are there steps you think schools can take to make this happen, should it be led at the teacher-level, etc?

A:  Our goal is to make digital citizenship a part of how we provide instruction and how we learn. But for many schools, it’s really an add-on to learning. Teachers have their plates full with new standards, new approaches, new curriculum, new devices, and new technology. There is a lot of “new.”  The more connected the curriculum is to the required learning the better.

I think the gold standard for how digital citizenship can become more prevalent in schools is to surface the role of a teacher librarian at a school site because this is under their academic purview. Under information literacy falls digital citizenship. And the teacher librarian is the person who’s collaborating with all the teachers and students. This is a chance to empower them, as this is their wheelhouse. I think in this way, digital citizenship can become an embedded part of school life, rather than a nice-to-have. It would find its home where it belongs, within Information Literacy education.

Q:  What was your biggest digital citizenship challenge and how did you overcome it?

A:  My biggest digital citizenship challenge is helping districts understand that we need to get beyond the mentality of: “We’ve got an acceptable use policy, the kids have signed it. We’re done.” We are not done, in fact, we aren’t even close to done. If you have a policy that a student or teacher is signing, then you have to connect it to education and evidence of learning.  

The next step is not just “now we need to educate them” but “how do we educate them,”  and you want to make sure you have a credentialed teacher who understands the subject matter, such as a teacher librarian. With Information Literacy as the canopy, teacher librarians do teach how we access information, evaluate it, integrate it, originate it — the issues of copyright, fair use, plagiarism, creative commons — and ultimately how we use information in a safe and ethical way.

I love the integrated concept most. This is the idea that we can tell the student anything they’re interested in, anything that matters to them, that we want them to figure out how that connects to what they’re learning in school. We want what matters to a student to matter at school. And I think that’s really the great nirvana we are all headed towards — to bring the personal and academic worlds closer together.  Information Literacy is the academic framework that makes this a reality!  And it all starts with becoming a 21st century digital citizen and be able to say with professional sincerity to every student “What matters to you, matters!”

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