Since our students are using technology to play, learn, and communicate while at home and at school, they should be learning how to use that technology responsibly. Full integration of digital citizenship (or DigCit) curriculum into every class and every content area—at every grade level—should be the goal to meet this need.
Keep in mind that most teacher-prep programs do not incorporate digital citizenship alongside the other elements of teacher education. Here is how we trained all the teachers in our school—St. John’s Prep in Massachusetts—as well as the lessons we learned along the way and our recommendations for what might work in your school, too.
Step 1: Clear Institution-Wide Communication
All stakeholders must have a clear understanding of both the “why” and the “how” of fully integrated digital citizenship. Start with school leadership. Administrators should agree:
- Why is digital citizenship a necessary element in 21st century education, and why is a fully-integrated approach best?
- How does digital citizenship fit into your school’s vision, mission, and/or values statements?
- How will each stakeholder—teachers, administrators, and parents—contribute to meeting the goal of full integration?
Once these questions have been answered, it is time to communicate clear goals and plans to everyone.
- For teachers, use emails or newsletters and department/team or faculty meeting agendas. Be thorough to make sure every teacher is on board.
- For parents, start talking about digital citizenship education at PTO or parent council meetings, webinars, email or paper newsletters, and announcements at events that pull in large crowds.
- For students, be sure they hear that they will now be both supported and held accountable for their behavior when using technology. At school and at home, the adults who care about them will be ready to help when they are overwhelmed, and will set limits when they are struggling to find balance.
Step 2: Digital Citizenship PD Starts with Flipped Learning
Since time is precious, we designed this website specifically for our faculty to “flip” part of the professional development. There are four modules on that site:
- What is DigCit?: Define digital citizenship and its subtopics to create a common language for your school. Mike Ribble’s 9 elements of digital citizenship are an industry standard, but every school community has unique needs. For our school we narrowed digital citizenship to four topics: etiquette, communication and responsibility, identity and personal brand, and privacy and safety.
- Learning: Next, provide models of what full-integration looks like in the classroom. With the permission of a few teachers in our school, we highlighted their lessons that were shining examples.
- Management: Explain and provide examples of how digital citizenship can help teachers and students manage their attention and behavior in classrooms and schools.
- Readiness: Include information on what skills colleges and employers want graduates to have. We explained how digital citizenship can help students practice and refine these skills.
The flipped modules took teachers one hour or less to complete and included interactive activities along the way. We used the data from these activities to shape the next phase of integration.
Step 3: In-Person PD Translates Theory into Practice
For the face-to-face component, we recommend two 2-hour sessions. Find this time during half-day professional learning days, or faculty or department meetings.
Goal 1: Debrief the content from the flipped modules. Give teachers time to talk about what they’ve learned from the flipped modules with their colleagues. We used real world scenarios to help spark conversations and then followed up with a few insightful direct quotes submitted by our faculty members during the flipped modules.
Goal 2: Curriculum planning. Next, teachers need digital citizenship resources to use in their classes with their students. We added a Digital Citizenship Deep Dive section to our website so teachers could click on the topic assigned to their department – etiquette, communication and responsibility, identity and personal brand, and privacy and safety – to find articles, videos, and lesson ideas. Then teachers had 90 minutes with colleagues who taught similar classes or grade levels to brainstorm ideas for integrating digital citizenship into their existing lessons and projects.
Be warned: During these meetings, challenges will pop up. For instance, many teachers feel like they don’t have enough time for their existing curriculum. Where will they fit in digital citizenship? Others might struggle to see the connection between their content area and digital citizenship, or might prefer the ease of a pre-packaged lesson. We found it helpful to talk with these teachers about how they have seen technology both and help and hinder their students’ learning. Many discovered they are already teaching digital citizenship and this new integrated model would just help them do it more intentionally and with our new common vocabulary.
Step 4: Follow-up
Make sure teachers feel supported as they roll out their lessons. This could mean having a second adult in the classroom the first time students and teachers are trying something new, or providing opportunities for teachers to debrief and support each other as they work through this new curriculum.
Students need to know that it is part of a larger culture shift, and not just a one-year initiative. School leaders should remind students about the importance of digital citizenship often at team or class meetings. Teachers shouldn’t be the only, or even the first, people that students hear from about digital citizenship.
Include other members of the school community. Make sure that school counselors have participated in digital citizenship education like their teacher counterparts so they are prepared to talk with parents and students. Continue offering resources, webinars, and in-person presentations for parents so they feel supported and empowered to talk to their students about when and how they are using technology.
A culture shift will happen when digital citizenship concepts and terminology are just as integral to day-to-day instruction as any other aspect of a child’s education. Agree on the digital citizenship goals, share your vision, train your teachers, and follow-through by continuing to support all stakeholders.