Digital Citizenship Lesson Buffet for Middle School – Course 2 Project

Our school is looking to develop the character education component of our homeroom time. One slice of the pie I’d like to sink my teeth into is digital citizenship. To be sure the message gets out to all students, I would be very pleased to see explicit teaching about rights & responsibility, security & safety, communication & etiquette become part of our homeroom advisory instruction.

Working with Alli and Becky, we sought to kickstart the process with a Digital Citizenship Lesson Buffet for the middle school – a list of links, lessons, and activities, organized into broad categories, that could be shared with the IT Department and MS Administration for future planning of character education delivery.


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We began by defining specific realms – digital citizenship traits. It didn’t take long for these divisions to prove themselves quite arbitrary as the online materials out there are myriad and, of course, do not necessarily follow our idea of compartmentalization!

Nevertheless, we came across many, many good online resources, initially with some assistance from a small taskforce of Grade 6 and 7 students in an after-school IT-interest club, sponsored by Becky and our MS IT Coordinator (who played an important advisory role in this project also).

The more we gathered, categorized, and annotated, the more we all got the feeling that we were barely scratching the surface of the awesome resources available. Even when we restricted ourselves to those freely available, without charge. Fully developed all-in-one programs do exist, of course, but our school is perhaps looking to use a more personalized, student/teacher-interest driven methodology, so this was another reason for our smorgasbord approach to the project.

We see the future of our project requiring the direction of coordinators and principals. However, we suggest that next steps would involve (hopefully student-directed) defining of the traits of digital citizenship. The materials also need to be transposed to some sort of articulated framework, i.e. which grade levels do what.

Long story short (project steps and further info are available below in the project document itself): Regardless of next steps at the next level of administration at our school, I am personally looking forward to using some of these ready-to-go, highly-interactive online resources at content-related intervals through the rest of this year, and hopefully next year as well, when our advisory program will take more concrete shape.

Here is our final Course 2 Project GoogleDoc template:

My Digital Footprint Catches Up With Me

Ironically, not long after our last f2f class discussion about digital footprints and the importance of managing our online identities, I learned that my own digital footprint had grown by a photo and a couple of comments past my personal comfort level.


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I had brought the conversation about digital footprints into my own classroom with the Fahrenheit 451 theme-related question: “Does the media control you (and how would you know)?” As mentioned in a previous blog, I have found that the following video clip (“Digital Dossier” – a project related to the Digital Native concept, and more specifically, John Palfrey’s book, Born Digital) has elicited quite a sober response from students in the past.

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I have shown this clip a few times now since Palfrey visited our school and shared it with us. And I had always assumed that the students’ wide eyed silence represented a merging of perspectives between teacher and student – that they were finally beginning to “twig” that your digital footprint is a real, permanent, growing, parallel-self database growing out there, largely beyond our control. That this prospect, in turn, gives credence to the idea that the media really does control you to an extent unknown and unknowable. I, personally, feel some helplessness along with this realization. I even see some menace in the idea.

But this year, I discovered I was  mistaken. (Once again! Should I be surprised anymore?!) The students’ response, left to blossom with a little self-reflection, was one of awe, yes, but also one of fascination. Perhaps they were empowered by the sense of having a vastly greater impact on the digital scene than they had previously imagined. Some, I gathered, were a little daunted, but by and large the follow-up exercise produced little ripples of thrill around the room as students completed a digital-use survey.

Although I set this as an optional activity, many of my students were quite enamored with the process of measuring their digital footprint using the  Personal Digital Footprint Calculator.

This tool (as described in an article by the ReadWriteWeb people) “walks you through a questionnaire that calculates your impact based on the responses to questions about your computer usage, email usage, digital camera/camcorder usage, web downloading habits, potential surveillance areas, and geographical information, among other things. …[I]f you take the time to fill out the Digital Footprint Calculator correctly, you’ll be presented with your current ‘daily digital footprint,’ in megabytes. You can then click ‘Start Ticker’ to launch your own personal ticker that increments over time according to your digital information creation. You can even upload this, along with the .swf file, to your own web site and share your results with others.”

This process proved to be a real hit and students were soon busy with survey questions and comparison, and then also surprise at the big numbers that were churning out as a measure of their impact on the digital landscape. Their delight in big digits reminded me again of the generational divide between my feelings about being digitally exposed and their pleasure in this measure of being “out there.”

Here are a few of their digital footsteps:

(My students all came up with higher numbers than the example ticker created with wizard defaults, as presented by IDC, a Marketing and Intelligence Forecasting Firm and creators of the Calculator, sponsored by EMC).

But, back to my own digital footprint. Literally within days of this video/activity/lesson, I received a brief email from one of my quieter students. The subject line read:

“this picture of you taken by [student name] during the field trip”

…and in the body of the email:

“I print-screened the picture and comments.”

(So much for email etiquette, greetings and salutations, etc. But that’s another blog!)

Anyway, when I saw the screen shot attached to the email, I was shocked. It had been captured from a Facebook page. I was the subject of a photo, taken by a student without my knowledge, and now posted on a different student’s account. The commentary beneath lead me to believe that somehow the photographer had been able to upload it directly into his friend’s account (passwords freely shared amongst friends?), with only grudging assent from the owner of the account. I teach these two students, and each had commented. At least two other students, who I know but do not teach, had added comments.

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I was stunned by my own lesson hitting so close to home. By my digital footprint finally catching up with me this way. Suddenly my teaching points took on a sharp poignancy regarding becoming aware and beginning to manage your online identity.

Now, the image was not at all demeaning. (I had half a mind to ask for a copy, but that would have diluted the point of the conversation I was going to have to have with the students!) And the comments were more positive than negative. But it was a bit embarrassing, and I would also call it inappropriate.

I called out the two boys in the very next class, and said: “I believe my digital footprint has recently grown by one particular photo and several comments.”

They knew immediately what I was getting at. The Facebook account owner gave the photographer a bit of a shove and an embarrassed exclamation to signal blame-appointment. And the photographer, red-faced and grinning that furious teenage-boy grin of shame, tried a lame: “But it was a nice photo.”

I didn’t need to say much more. They didn’t seem to wonder about how I knew about it. I wasn’t going to give up my source, but it was interesting to note that they didn’t even question the notion that the public eye had somehow seen into a private account.

I asked them to help me reduce my footprint by a photo and several comments. And they shuffled away. (No apology, incidentally. But I wasn’t going to make a scene.) The next day when I made a vague reference to it, the boy said he had removed it.

So there it was – online reputation house-cleaning, one photo at a time.

It occurred to me that what my quiet student-friend had done for me in blowing the whistle on these guys, was exactly the way I want to think we can approach personal digital footprint management. And, it follows too, cyberbullying. I don’t think these two boys would have even remotely associated their actions with this concept, but I certainly was made to feel uncomfortable by the knowledge of that photo and those comments.

But if other students, friends, peers, acquaintances are willing to share what they know, in the way that my student did with a simple emailed screenshot, then what I think we can grow is a kind of Honor Code equivalent in the cyber-realm.

With social media well beyond the control of any one individual, I think this community-watch group-regulation, is critical.

Sickened by Cyberbullying

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I just read another long, sickening news story (New York Times, December 4) on cyberbullying. There’s plenty of them out there – both cyberbullies and headlines about them. And it’s plain to see that one anecdote after another follows a horrifyingly common pattern:

  1. …Parents notice their child has become withdrawn, miserable; grades drop; skips school.
  2. …Parents prod and student doesn’t communicate.
  3. …Eventually parents dig up the cause: cyberbullying.
  4. …The medium is a social networking site like Facebook or instant/text messages
  5. …The method maximizes the anonymity of the internet and the ease with which identities can be forged; the tyranny of the majority mobilized in a psychological savaging of the victim, unbridled by individual inhibitions
  6. …The cyber-content is sneering, hurtful, obscene; mob mentality quickly escalates the situation.
  7. …The cyber-evidence is unimaginably gruesome, and particularly chilling because it is perpetrated by peers, other young people, often known to the victim, some supposedly friends of the victim; whole groups of peers are attracted by this opportunity to “get in on the action.”

In their own words (article excerpts):

“It’s not the swear words. They all swear. It’s how they gang up on one individual at a time. ‘Go cut yourself.’ Or ‘you are sooo ugly’ — but with 10 u’s, 10 g’s, 10 l’s, like they’re all screaming it at someone.” – Inspector Brunault

Fat bitch.” – someone comments about a 9-year-old girl on her teenage brother’s Facebook wall.

About the proud Facebook photos posted by a 13-year-old New York girl, another girl comments: “hideous” and “this pic makes me throwup a lil.” If she had to choose between the life of an animal and that of the girl in the photos, she continues, she would choose the animal’s, because “yeah, at least they’re worth something.”

At least I don’t take pics of myself in the mirror like a homosexual midget.” Also, “you smell weird.” And “ur such a petaphile.”- Facebook tauntings issued from an impersonated profile.

  1. …When the victim’s parent sees this, the parent is shocked and beside themselves.
  2. …Seeking outside help presents a daunting prospect: Schools seem either impotent or unwilling to handle off-campus matters. The police make very slow, hard work of investigation, if they deem it worthy of the effort at all; prosecutions are rare for “first-time offenders.” Direct contact with website admin or ISPs can  yield disappointing results.
  3. …Parent-intervention or efforts to stop the cyber-bullying may be met with an escalation of the bullying.
  4. …Addressing the perpetrators, if they are discovered, results in anything from dismissal & shoulder shrugging from bullies and the parents of bullies, to pointed fingers at the victim.
  5. …Further investigation reveals the victim has tampered with or deleted crucial evidence, and/or retaliated themselves under the veil of internet anonymity so that the line between victim and bully is blurred and parents are left bewildered and helpless about how to move forward.
  6. …Parents strive but struggle to keep a closer watch over their children’s internet use. All the young people, victim and bully, resent parental monitoring.
  7. …Kids find a way around any barrier erected by their parents. And the vicious cycle continues.

It’s like Lord of the Flies – a fight for survival amongst children who lost their innocence way back in the jungle somewhere. And when the adult arrives to rescue the little savages and bring them back to a world of law and order and civility, his arrival is greeted with bewilderment and tears of grief. Nothing can ever be the way it was before they all came to the island; and the trouble now is that the surprised officer has, himself, lost sight of the ship that would get them off the island.

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It all just makes me sick – physically sick. I don’t plan to offer any pretty platitudes to wrap up this post. I’m guessing there are plenty of unhappy endings.

Online predators don’t pack much of a punch, but the backyard bullies do

It is a lovely turn of events to find your reading on a particular edtech topic actually REDUCES fear and loathing. More often than not, the media careens from IT-related crisis to disaster, and the media consumer obligingly laps it up, while that black cloud that always seems to be hanging over the head of the new generation of internet users takes on an even deeper hue of gloom. The ominous prospect of an over-exposed, over-stimulated, over-predated new generation of technology users looms ever larger – or so it would seem.

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What deep delight it was, therefore, to read an article by The Times’s technology columnist, David Pogue (“How dangerous is the internet for children?”) which actually suggests that the tales of doom facing children online are over-hyped.

I particularly liked this point: “The tales of pedophiles luring children out of their homes are like plane crashes: they happen extremely rarely, but when they do, they make headlines everywhere.”

Now, that puts it into perspective. Pogue’s article serves as yet another reminder to me that, despite all the articles and blogging, frown lines and hand-wringing, the internet is “just another facet of socialization for the new generation.”

He follows this up with more sensible advice for us onlookers: “…as always, common sense and a level head are the best safeguards.”

Deep sigh! That’s what we want to hear, right?! (There’s that instinctive confidence that comes from assuming that our own good sense is part of that collective common sense the author has just invoked, and with that pronouncement, that we can relinquish our sense of spinning out of control.)

Pogue, in turn, references a  PBS “Frontline” documentary which confirms what we already know about the teenagers-online scene, i.e. that they are completely immersed in chat, Facebook, and other options that have simply become absorbed into their ordinary, every day lives. And it also reiterated that the sexual-predator scenario that keeps many parents and teachers awake at night, is just plain skewed.

Incidentally, the PBS report Pogue referred to in his article, also added one surprising tidbit to this aspect of online safety. It turns out, according to the data analysis, that giving out personal information over the Internet makes no difference whatsoever to a child’s likelihood of falling prey to a pedophile. Now, this seems to fly in the face of pretty much every spiel I’ve recited to my students as we’ve opened a VoiceThread account here or a Bubbl.Us account there.

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Another sobering point that was raised, and one that I can easily believe in, is that many sexual propositions that kids receive have come from their peers fooling around or people just “acting weird online.” Thus, according to Danah Boyd of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, an interview subject in the documentary: “Most of the sexual solicitations, they’re not that big a deal. Most of it is the 19-year-old saying to the 17-year old, ‘Hey, baby.’ Is that really the image that we come to when we think about sexual solicitations? No. We have found kids who engage in risky behavior online. The fact is, they’ve engaged in a lot more risky behavior offline.”

Of course, the reader is not allowed to walk away scot-free after all. Pogue can’t resist poking at our persistent dis-belief that our kids will grow up just fine if we let nature take its course, (i.e. without our intervention) by concluding his article with a focus on the fear that we really DO need to face: the more murky realm of cyber-bullying.

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Pogue describes cyber-bullying as the far more realistic and pernicious threat to our younger internet users because kids tend to use the virtual world as their own little social laboratory, trying on different personas and pushing boundaries, in ways that tend to be a lot nastier and extreme in this anonymous environment than they would ever dare to be in face-to-face interactions. Added to this, the nastiness is significantly more damaging and painful because it is public and permanent. Plus, kids just don’t see it for what it is.

This is the real problem that we need to face as guardians of our children’s innocence and self-concept. So, I guess it had better be the subject of my next post.

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