Inspired by an article about cyberbullying, I asked my fifth-graders to write podcast scripts. They wrote about teasing, cyberbullying, gossip, intention vs. consequence, advertising, digital footprints and the lack of facial cues in electronic communication. Working mostly in collaborative groups, my students recorded complete “'casts” on our informal laptop studio.
As always, a few students improved upon my lesson plan and asked to write podcasts for their other teachers. The resulting efforts helped students better define their digital citizenship. One student noted, “When an electronic problem [like cyberbullying] becomes a ‘big problem,’ teachers talk about it at school. How come we don’t talk about these things when they aren’t [big] problems?”
These students also wanted to learn more about how their teachers and other adult leaders experience electronic-world challenges. “Do my [non-technology] teachers ever have these problems?” another boy asked. “Why don’t they ever talk about what happens to them?”
In other words, these students yearned to view their instructors as technology behavior models, just as teachers serve as their models in other ways. After some discussion, the kids agreed on five areas that non-technology teachers should cover more often:
- Do you ever get an e-mail, voicemail, or text that hurts your feelings? What do you do? What about spam, urban legends, and chain letters?
- Can you tell us why you use a particular website for a class project or lesson? If you find a site that is terrible, can you show us why you are not using it?
- Will you remind us often about how electronic communication does not express feelings? Have you been treated meanly or rudely in an e-mail or text?
- Can you learn [and help us learn] more about Wikipedia? It’s everywhere. It almost always shows up when we search. Can you help us figure out the next good link?
- Please remind us a lot about digital footprints?
This group never actually recorded a podcast. But something even better happened. By the time the students had finished, an idea I call the “digital citizenship minute” had been born. Digital citizenship minutes can offer educators an opportunity to address some of the virtual-world problems that children face by making small digital digressions throughout the regular curriculum.
In the preface to his book, The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract, Theodore R. Sizer writes about how students learn from their teachers. “…They watch us all the time… They listen to us sometimes. They learn from all that watching and listening.” Each day we educators model critical values— respect, cooperation, acceptance, inclusiveness and responsibility—in our classrooms, and our students observe. But we must not forget that these digital children are also observing when we do not pay attention to an issue.
Might digital citizenship minutes help us pay attention and apply these values to the electronic world in which our students live increasingly public lives?
Weston is a middle school technology teacher in Washington, D.C.