Becoming Digital Citizens in the Classroom
Teaching students how to become digital citizens is essential as technology assumes a greater place in their lives. Learners with opportunities to think critically about what they see online; recognize the benefits and risks of sharing information; and balance screen time with other activities will become digitally aware and responsible.
In a recent edWebinar, “Let’s Celebrate Digital Citizenship Week: Something for Everyone,” edtech experts introduced tips for launching or expanding digital citizenship (digcit) in their schools. Dr. Wanda Greenfield, tech integration specialist at Jesse Boyd Elementary School in Spartanburg, South Carolina, outlined ideas for molding learners into digital citizens. Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh regional manager at Common Sense Education, focused on full school community involvement in digcit practices.
Getting Started: Quick and Easy Activities
For teachers new to digcit or who have limited planning time, Greenfield recommended ready-to-use activities (many are available through Common Sense Education) including her favorite, Digital Tattoo, which invites learners to examine their digital footprints. Using non-permanent markers, students “tattoo” their arms or hands in response to a prompt and then share what their design says about their digital imprint. The goal is to demonstrate that what they do online remains forever (like a tattoo).
- Producing digcit text via a free write or tools like BookCreator, PowerPoint, and Prezi.
- Co-developing an anchor chart with the teacher highlighting digital expectations, e.g., citing online resources, not surfing the internet in class.
- Signing the Common Sense Digital Citizenship Pledge (adaptable to upper grades).
Another option is for learners to fashion their unique connection to digital responsibility through a creative task. They might:
- Produce movie trailers, PSAs, memes, comic strips, emojis, rhymes, or songs.
- Create commercials with tools such as iMovie.
- Design digcit branded posters, i.e., become a digital superhero, avoid plagiarism.
For educators already on the digcit journey or seeking to launch a more concrete program, Greenfield and Ehehalt suggested ways to expand efforts.
Teaching Digital Citizenship Lessons Opening up the ways lessons are introduced to learners bolsters staff involvement in digcit efforts. For example school leaders can set a required number of digcit lessons to be taught during the year. Whole-grade teams can select specific lessons to weave into curricular activities. Media or instructional technology specialists can teach during electives like media and library. Older students might engage younger peers in digcit lessons through classroom partnerships.
School/District Administration Collaboration Involving school and district administration in digcit campaigns furthers desired behaviors. Principals might issue a tip of the day during daily announcements or place it on a prominent message board. District administrators can produce a video modeling digital responsibility. District-wide digcit calls to action can be announced on social media sites with hashtags.
Whole School and Schoolwide Initiatives Getting the entire school on board to support a digcit culture ensures the reinforcement of appropriate digital engagement. As an example of such a unified approach, Greenfield shared a project Jesse Boyd School used to promote schoolwide awareness of digital citizenship.
All teachers teach a digital footprint lesson. Students, faculty, and staff sign individual footprints that are glued onto a large poster board and mounted in the cafeteria. A banner is displayed side-by-side with the poster that reflects a school’s digital stance. (Greenfield’s school’s was “Jesse Boyd Loves Digital Citizenship”). Every school member signs the banner in solidarity. The message remains for everyone to absorb each day.
Bringing together all school stakeholders–students, faculty, staff, families, and community members–also fosters a digital culture. Greenfield and Ehehalt highlighted strategies to engage the school community in this regard:
- Each class creates a digcit video, either on a topic of choice or one that has been assigned. Videos are edited into a single film the entire school watches and discusses.
- Students present on digcit issues during family night, which might provide opportunities for attendees to watch videos or play games in a computer lab-type environment, and thus become more aware of the digital challenges their children face.
- Guest speakers present on critical digcit issues, such as cyberbullying.
Family Engagement Digcit family activities encourage digital responsibility at home. Families, for example, can FaceTime a friend or relative, listen to a podcast together, or create a digital family photo book. Schools can engage families in live Facebook bedtime stories that a teacher or principal reads; or real-time video or Bingo games played with a teacher or principal. These activities model appropriate digital behavior and practices.
“Digital citizens aren’t born,“ emphasized Ehehalt. Teachers who celebrate and raise awareness through activities that promote collaboration, creation, and communication can shape their students into lifelong digital citizens.
About the Presenters
Dr. Wanda Greenfield is the technology integration specialist at Jesse Boyd Elementary School (District 7) in Spartanburg, South Carolina as well as a part-time adjunct instructor at Spartanburg Community College. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Florida State University; a master’s degree in elementary education from Florida Atlantic University; and her doctorate in instructional design learning from Capella University. She frequently presents at technology and education conferences.
About the Host
Jennifer Ehehalt is the Pittsburgh regional manager at Common Sense Education. She is responsible for helping school districts build a culture of digital citizenship among educators, students and their families. She designs and delivers pre-K-12 professional development to support teachers in the implementation of Common Sense’s K-12 digital citizenship resources and tech integration in the classroom. She presents best practices in technology and education conferences around the country.
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