Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It Takes a Village...How I Became a Tattle Tale

I am a tattle tale. 

In the past month I've spied posts by young people on Facebook that have made me cringe. Whether it's an image meant to elicit guilt if you don't 'like' it, or a post that is offensive, my response has been to tell the parents. I tattled. Sometimes I've even commented in full teacher-mode.  I can only imagine what the kids must think. I am that annoying grownup.

I don't actually make it a habit to be friends with youth on Facebook; those that are my friends are usually family. Sometimes I wonder if I really want to be friends with anyone who isn't at least 25, family included. There are just some things I don't want to know. That said, I know that the parents in question work very hard to try to impart good manners and good choice-making on their young Facebook-using kids. Having another eye on what's happening has proven helpful (even if it makes me a tattletale).

We need to form digital villages for our youth.

Based on what I've seen from the posts made by friends of my young friends, family monitoring and involvement isn't common or the kiddos are getting really good at hiding their digital lives from the adults in charge. Some of the comments....just use your imagination. You won't be far off. Regardless of why it's happening, adults need to be more participatory in the digital lives of youth, especially those in our families and friendship circles.  As a teacher, I don't feel comfortable being friends with current students. Some teachers disagree with me and have found involvement in social networking with students to be beneficial. They have joined "the village" and participate in modeling ethical behavior and good decision-making. I feel much more comfortable doing this with young people who are part of my family. Either way, we can all help model what we want the digital world to look like for youth.

We hear a lot about how comfortable teens and young adults are with technology. Are they digital natives? Yes, they've never known anything different. Are they digitally wise? Not inherently. It isn't in their genetic code or embedded in their brain matter. We've discussed in previous posts how difficult it is for young people to instinctively understand long term consequences. Their brain development just isn't there yet.  A comfort level or base of skills and knowledge doesn't always equal wisdom. What a young person finds funny can be crass and offensive to others and group-think can play an important role in why decisions (especially the bad ones) get made so quickly: everyone else 'liked' it, so it can't be that bad.

Parents can't do it alone.

In our culture, parents have the right and the responsibility to be the primary role models, rule setters and disciplinarians for their children. But that's a heavy burden. It means being the bad guy a lot of the time and it also means hearing, "But that's not fair! Brenda (or Bobby's) parents let her (use Facebook, stay out late, have a cell phone, etc)." We've all probably heard this (or said it!) before. We know it isn't true. Joining the village and helping to raise young people, whether they are our own or not, can help. Youth will know that the village cares, and parents don't become the only voice saying the things we all know should be said.

So, ...

I'm going to continue to help out where I can and at the same time pay attention to how I model my involvement in the digital world.

Will I tattle from time to time? Probably.

Will I occasionally add a comment intended to educate, re-direct or call attention to questionable behavior? Certainly.

Am I overstepping and infringing on the role of a parent? I don't think so.

My goal is to educate and inform, behind the scenes if necessary, as a member of the village. I'll also continue to monitor my own participation, especially when I get fired-up over one issue or another. I'll be supporting rather than bashing...and that gives me a great idea for another post.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Do I Tell My Girls?

My FB post...
not enough space for what's in my head and heart
Wednesday evening as I was checking Facebook, I flashed back to a moment in the car that morning on the way to school. A local news radio station was on, and my girls (ages 9 and 11) were asking questions about the big news story of the morning out of Benghazi, Libya.  Not deeply entrenched in middle eastern politics at their tender ages, "What's an ambassador?" was a great question to get us started on the current events of the day. During the top-of-the-hour news segment, however, I got completely derailed by a local story involving Facebook, teenage girls, and nude photos that was highlighted. I was so disturbed by the very end of the story, I knew I had to post something about it here as it is so completely related to issues of ethics, responsible choices, and the digital world. But as I tried to craft a brief snippet for the Ethics4ADW Facebook feed, I realized I was having a really hard time keeping it short, while still trying to represent my feelings on the subject. To the blog!

I know that last time I posted something I promised to write about positive things about the internet. I still plan to! But while this event is fresh in my mind, I want to try to get my thoughts down....

The facts of this story are deeply disturbing:
  • a 24-year old man took advantage of young teenage girls, allegedly threatening them into sending  him sexually explicit photos of themselves
  • girls sent him the images in exchange for "gifts"
  • two of these girls agreed to meet this man in person
  • he has been charged with 25 felonies (according to the TNT, "[he] is charged with multiple counts each of communication with a minor for immoral purposes, possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, second-degree extortion, sexual exploitation of a minor and viewing depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.")
  • he pleaded not guilty, despite photographic and video evidence
I'm not a lawyer, and I don't plan to try and make a legal case against anyone here as there are plenty of details to which I am not privy. I am grateful one of the girls finally came forward and got the authorities involved, though I'm guessing "25 felonies" wasn't in her conceptual framework for what was going on here. I think by the end of the radio news segment, I said something aloud like, "THAT'S why you never take naked pictures of yourself!"but I'm hopeful my kids did not hear that way in the back of our van, because it was a thoughtless, throwaway remark, and I haven't ever actually talked to my kids about nude self-portraits. Besides, as awful as the details are, that's not what had me the most upset (though perhaps in hindsight, it should have been). The last piece in this story was a direct quote from someone for whom I didn't hear credentials. I'm sure whoever was interviewed had plenty to say, but the only snippet quoted in the broadcast ended with this:

"This is why parents should monitor their children's activities online. The internet is populated with perverts and criminals."


I am sure for this story, the message was supposed to be something along the lines of be careful with what you choose to share online, and please monitor your children closely. The intent was to caution parents and spare others this horrible situation. But this blanket generalization hit a major nerve with me because it is NOT the message I want my children to hear. Yes, there are perverts and criminals online. The world is not always a nice place, and I'd rather not have them learn that lesson the hard way. But I also don't want to scare them into thinking the internet is a black hole of nefarious boogeymen. We are online EVERY DAY. We use the internet for education, entertainment, communication. We talk about what not to do, what it means to have a digital identity, how much control you have over it (and how to take control of it), and the consequences of poor decisions...maybe not enough yet, but we do talk about these things, and we will continue to do so as my girls mature and understand the concepts more deeply. For now, the computer is in a common space, and it is used predominantly during homework time. There are rules at our house for time spent online, and though I don't block anything from my kids, search filters are "moderate" and I request that they ask permission before visiting a site we haven't looked at together before. They are not allowed to have accounts with services that require a minimum age of 13. I will not sign them up and lie about their age, creating an even larger digital footprint based on a fundamental untruth. Thirteen isn't some magic age kids reach and find themselves suddenly capable of making great decisions, mind you, but following a site's guidelines (such as Facebook's) is an ethical choice that I want to model. In our house, we begin with these guidelines so we are practiced and ready for expanded access and privileges as we enter the teenage years. We Google our own names to demonstrate the power and reach of the internet and to see what is already "out there" about us that we might not have even known about. My goal is to teach my kids to be responsible digital citizens, to contribute positively to the online world. The same things I teach in the classroom about being safe, responsible, critical, and proactive I teach at home.

I cannot fathom what would prompt a young girl to send naked pictures of herself to a stranger she met online. What I mean to say is, I think I can understand it intellectually and psychologically, but not personally. That type of exposure would never have occurred to me in my teens, and if one of my daughters was involved in such a thing, I'm honestly not sure how I would react. I sympathize with and understand parents who lament the "good old days" when this type of thing wasn't even possible and we didn't have to worry about it. But that is not the world we live in. The internet did not invent bad choices and inappropriate behavior. Perverts and criminals have been around longer than Facebook. So what is my job as an educator and a mother in this digital age? The same it has always been. To teach, guide, love and support.

I choose to believe that the decisions I make with my own children (and the lessons I hope to impart) will arm them with the tools necessary to embrace the digital world with purpose, but without fear.


This analysis (or simple sharing of feelings) still feels quite incomplete, but I have not before picked apart a news story and voiced my own opinions about the behaviors of the people involved. It's extremely uncomfortable.  I do not feel it is my place to sit in judgment of others when I neither know all the facts of a story, nor the thoughts and feelings of those involved.  I worry for these girls in the story, and their reasons for exposing such intimate parts of themselves to a complete stranger. I worry about their ability to see an anonymous person online as a "stranger," regardless of how a digital relationship might make them feel. As an educator and mother, I read these stories and look for the teachable moments within them. What can I teach my kids here? What can they learn from this? Honestly, I probably would not have even discussed this story were in not for the ominous and far reaching quote at the end of the radio broadcast. If I were a law enforcement officer who was constantly confronted by the darker side of humanity in dealing with digital crimes, I would probably say the same thing. However, the criminal side of the internet isn't the only thing out there, and I think it is the responsibility of educators to show the other side.

Ultimately, my goal is not for my children to learn that the internet is a scary place. It may very well be (in some instances and spaces). But I don't automatically assume that the worst elements of humanity will suck my kids in.  I want them to be safe and to make responsible decisions online. I want them to feel empowered by their ability to make good choices, not fearful that they must always be on guard for danger. After years in the digital world myself, I find that I don't often come across negative or dangerous things because that is not how I choose to spend my time online. How did I get this way if not for the guidance of my teachers, parents and loved ones? I was long out of high school when the internet (as we know it today) even came along. But the core of who I am, and my notions of right and wrong, were already firmly established by the time I found the world (good and bad) at my fingertips.

Why don't I  want my kids to absorb the message that "the internet is populated with perverts and criminals?"

Because I believe in the power of sharing information, collaboration, access to educational content, and the vast library of expert material that is available at the touch of a button. I believe the benefits of access to the internet far outweigh the dangers. I believe that caution and fear are not the same thing. I believe that a child educated in what it truly means to be a positive digital citizen can make this world a better place...

...and I hope our children will take their best shot at it.

  • Read more here:"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Plagiarism is a Mistake? Really?

When Holly and I meet with parents and make suggestions about how to engage in conversations with young people about digital ethics, we often suggest they use current events in the media to spark great discussions. Here's a wonderful (exasperating) example...

In the last two days, I've read and listened to news reports about two different incidents of plagiarism. You may have heard about Fareed Zakaria, an editor at large at Time Magazine and a host on CNN, who on Friday, August 10th, admitted to plagiarizing passages from a New Yorker article. What a profound disappointment. Plagiarism really yanks my chain.  It might be due to my inherent need to follow every rule, and my frustration with those who don't. Or it could be because I recognize how difficult it is to write well and how easy it is to steal the work of others in the digital age. Either way, it's wrong. But what really hit a nerve this week was the way Mr. Zakaria and author Quentin Rowan "apologized."

Mr. Rowan, author of the book Assassin of Secrets, was outed as a plagiarist after the book was published last November. I listened to an interview with Mr. Rowan on American Public Media's The Story yesterday and he drove me absolutely nutty. He was being interviewed because a memoir, based on his experience plagiarizing, has recently been published. He blamed his plagiarism primarily on the pressure to write well.  I'll also mention here that Mr. Rowan had been plagiarizing almost everything he'd published for the past 15 years.

In the interview, it is suggested that some of the frustration directed towards Mr Rowan is due to the publication of his new memoir...about his life as a plagiarist. Mr. Rowan seemed more concerned about whether or not his future publications would generate as much interest or that his writing would be discussed based on it's own merit, and not his history of plagiarism. He also dances around his apology calling his actions a mistake, misguided or due to being "wrong headed." He says he was wrong, but his tone suggests that he thinks we should all just move on and not take it quite so seriously.

In Mr. Zakaria's apology in the New York Times, he states that, "They are right. I made a terrible mistake." Really? It was a mistake? A mistake feels accidental to me. Like when I forgot a decimal point on a utility payment and overpaid by almost $3,000 (thank you Tacoma Public Utilities for helping me fix my mistake, and not least not while I was on the phone). Plagiarism, especially in the way that Mr. Zakaria and Mr. Rowan practiced it, isn't accidental. It took effort. Mr. Rowan even describes the hard work it took to steal in order to refute a claim that plagiarists are lazy.

Comparisons to paragraphs in Mr. Zakaria's column and those from Jill Lepore's New Yorker article show the slight, but numerous, changes made to the plagiarized portions. It's not accidental. It is premeditated. You have to do it deliberately. Saying it was a mistake seriously lessens the gravity of the action.

Students who plagiarize face consequences, just like Mr. Zakaria and Mr. Rowan, whose experiences will certainly be examples for discussion when I talk about plagiarism in the middle school this fall.  Are there legal consequences for plagiarism? Not really. Mr. Rowan had to pay back the advance from his publisher. Mr. Zakaria might lose his job, or at least some income. Can Ms. Lepore sue for theft of property? Nope, but I wish she could.

The digital world has made the act of plagiarism much easier, but it doesn't lessen the offense.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fear and Exaggeration Aren't Doing Us Any Favors

School's out, and summer "tech mode" has taken over from the educational pursuits I'm normally working on, but after reading this recent post by Nick Sauers, I wanted to get my thoughts down before too much time goes by. Nick eloquently writes:
The Sky is Falling!” com­plex...seems to be extremely preva­lent when it comes to tech­nol­ogy in edu­ca­tion.  We, and espe­cially the media, seem to con­stantly focus on all the neg­a­tive things hap­pen­ing with tech­nol­ogy.  Schools block YouTube because of videos like this.  Face­book is seen as evil at many schools because of the harass­ing that may occur, or because of inap­pro­pri­ate rela­tion­ships between stu­dents and teach­ers.  Social media in gen­eral is con­sid­ered a very dan­ger­ous place for students. 
We often don’t con­sider the pos­i­tive things hap­pen­ing with all of those tech­nolo­gies. 

Though I would love to devote an entire post to positive things happening with "all of those technologies," Nick's post triggered for me a deeper look at the fear and exaggeration that dominate headlines, and the unintended consequences of hyperbole.

Sam and I wrapped up the year with a very interesting discussion with our middle school students. We typically ask them to anonymously submit "tech ethical dilemmas" they have encountered at some point in the recent past, so when we do invite ourselves to their classrooms, we really address the things they want to talk about. This year we got a fair amount of submissions, ranging from keeping passwords private, to electronic file sharing and illegal downloads, to more personal "a friend is in trouble and I don't know how to help" situations. After sorting through their questions, we picked about 5 to discuss, using a strategy where we turn it around and ask the kids to provide "advice" to the anonymous person asking the question. It's a great way to get the discussion rolling.

One particular question that was asked was, "How many people are cyber bullied each year?"

So glad you asked.

We began by drawing a line on the board with 0% at one end and 100% at the other, then we asked kids to give us their best guess and we went around the room. I didn't take a picture of the board during each class (bummer...they were all very similar), so here is my horrid recreation:
Most were guessing in the 65-95% range. A few kids didn't want to guess without a clearer definition of cyber bullying (very shrewd), but almost all of them were shocked when we shared the statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project study on Teens, Kindness, and Cruelty on Social Network Sites. Eight percent.

Eight. Percent. Whaaaaaaaat?

"We hear about it all the time," they said. "It's everywhere," they said. "There are movies about it!" they said. That makes it a super-legit, consequential thing. Right?

Yes, it's a problem. Particularly if you're one of the 8% who has had to seriously deal with it. But is it a rampant epidemic? No, says Larry Magid, technology journalist and co-director of and founder of "It’s important to pay attention to this serious problem, but we need to keep it in perspective," he says. Our collective tendency to only report the horror stories, pay attention to the worst of the worst, or teach/parent/advise from a place of fear, is actually having an unintended side effect. Exaggerating bullying statistics can actually lead to an increase in bullying behavior. Sam and I saw this acceptance of "it happens all the time" in the kids' responses. The problem down the line, however, is that because they hear about it all the time, they start to accept it as normal behavior. And then when something bad really does happen to them, or they witness it, they pay less attention to it, ignore it, or have no idea how to handle it because they think it's no big deal.
To put it simply, overestimating bullying makes it seem like it's common. And, so the reasoning goes, if it's common, it must be normal and if it's normal, it must be OK. Well, it's not OK and, fortunately, it's not normal.  And that's exactly what anti-bullying programs need to emphasize.   Larry Magid, HuffPo 10/26/11
I have to admit, it felt so good to say out loud, "Bullying is NOT normal!" Sure, bad behavior happens, and most of us have been in a situation that was uncomfortable, or we've had our feelings hurt in some way. But is that always bullying? I am not trying to be flip.  We have written about this before, and recognize how much our language matters when it comes to these conversations. For the purposes of this particular discussion with our students, the statistical difference between their 80% guesses and the 8% reality allowed us to genuinely look at the definition of bullying as we perceive it and how the media defines it. How do you know what it is? Do you recognize it when you see it? What would you do if you witnessed it or were the victim of it? Do you have an adult in your life that could help you?

Furthermore, you may have noticed as my writing goes on, "cyber" isn't really a huge part of the general topic any more. This is about behavior, not the evils of technology. Bullying hurts and can cause serious damage, whether it's online or not (statistics show bullying in the "real world" still happens more frequently than the digital one). However, if we are constantly harping on all the negative stories and trying to scare people into not using technology because "bad things happen in cyberspace," we are truly and deeply missing the point. And by blaming the technology, we are certainly missing the opportunity to teach our kids about behavior and the human experience. Technology adds a new digital realm in which to deal with it all, but at the end of the day it is about our choices and actions.
Do fear and exaggeration increase risk?
View more PowerPoint from Larry Magid

Distressing Follow Up
The very same day we were having this great discussion with our 6th graders, this article was published in the Seattle Times about a "Facebook incident" at a local middle school. The author of the article misquoted the Pew Study, claiming that 90% of teenagers are bullied online. ACK!!!!! Sam and I both sent letters to him, but never heard back. :(

Sam's letter:
Dear Mr. Rosenthal,
I read just read your story about the fight that broke out at Whitman Middle School over an alleged Facebook argument.  In your article you state that, "A November study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center found that 90 percent of teenagers have been bullied online."  I've read that study (at least I believe it is the one you are referencing) and no where did the study find that 90% of students are cyberbullied. It is distressing to hear such inaccuracies in a trusted newspaper. Using hyperbole does not solve the problem and can actually create circumstances where young people feel that if it's happening to everyone it's not a big deal. Actual statistics on cyberbullying vary greatly, most of which can be attributed to the definition of bullying used by particular studies and/or how the questions are asked. I and my colleague Holly Lara spend a lot of time discussing digital ethics and related topics with students and just today had a lively discussion with a group of sixth graders about cyberbullying statistics. Most of the students believed that the vast majority (over 75%) of young people are cyberbullied. They have that belief because of media reports on horrific instances of suicide and abuse, but they also have that belief because they have heard or read inaccurate statistics. I hope you will print a correction to your story.  
My letter:
Mr. Rosenthal,
I will echo the sentiments of my colleague, Sam Harris, in expressing frustration at the misleading interpretation of the Pew Study in your recent article on the Whitman Middle School "melee." I am assuming that your statement...

A November study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center
found that 90 percent of teenagers have been bullied online.

Came from this part of the Pew study:

88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people be mean or cruel
on social network sites.
I would guess close to 100% of all social media using people (teens and adults alike) have witnessed other people be mean or cruel on social network sites. But that is not the same thing as cyberbullying. The word "bully" has been used far and wide recently to describe all kinds of behavior, and we tend to gravitate toward negative statistics that make good headlines. But we are not doing our kids any favors by reporting inaccurately. That same Pew study actually said "8% say they have experienced some form of online bullying, such as through email, a social network site or instant messaging." Eight percent...not 90.
I am not suggesting that cyberbullying isn't a problem. It certainly is, especially if you're one of those 8%. But I would encourage you to read a few articles, by experts in the field, on the damage done to our kids when exaggerated statistics are reported. We do not want to inadvertently create a culture where this type of behavior gets normalized because "it happens to everyone." Here are a few of our favorites resources:

The Unintended Consequences of Cyberbullying Rhetoric - danah boyd and Alice Marwick
The Drama! Teen Conflict, Gossip, and Bullying in Networked Publics - boyd and Marwick research paper
Exaggerating Bullying Could Increase Bullying - Larry Magid on the importance of accurate statistics
Kids Deserve the Truth About Cyberbullying - Anne Collier
Final thoughts: this is already way too long and I didn't even address my favorite part of Nick's blog post, "We often don’t con­sider the pos­i­tive things hap­pen­ing with all of those tech­nolo­gies."

That's my next post. :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

What are we talking about?

May 9th
6:00 - 7:30pm
Charles Wright Academy
Middle School Commons

Charles Wright Academy
We'd like to extend an invitation to join us May 9th at Charles Wright Academy for our annual presentation on Parenting in the Digital World. Over the years, this has grown in its scope, and we now welcome parents, guardians, educators (anyone!)  interested. From our own school, we encourage families in all three divisions to participate, and we'd love to hear from you if there is a particular topic you'd like us to address.

If you are a new visitor to this site, here is a list of our top blog posts to get you acquainted with some of our work, but please look around!

Does technology help or hinder our relationships?
What's your digital footprint?
Words matter: bullying terminology and its effects on the conversation
The Impact of Media on Our Children

Friday, March 9, 2012

Presentation at Multicare

We thank you for joining us at our super-special-shortened-for-lunchtime parent presentation at Multicare! Below you will find our slides, along with a compilation of resources and articles that parents might find helpful and informative:

We will continue to add more resources via Facebook and Twitter. Please follow us!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hey Mr. Hyper-Critical, Who Do You Think You're Talking To?

"I'd really love to tell that guy to pick on someone his own age!"

In the social media world, it can be easy to forget that the audience we communicate with is broad. My own collection of Facebook friends includes my nephews, my coworkers, my friends and my family. It didn't start that way. At first, those I networked with on Facebook included my friends and colleagues. The audience was small. We liked similar things. Our political views weren't far apart and much of our life experiences were common; we all went to the same college; we worked for the same organisation and we were all close in age. I didn't really think about my audience when I posted comments or status updates. If I made a snarky remark or inside joke, most were "inside" enough to get it. That isn't true today. I have to think a bit more carefully about what I post, how it will look to a wide audience and who should see it. It's part of the evolution of my own personal social network.

That brings me back to the quote that started this post. A few weeks ago, a couple of students at CWA came to a trusted adult to share an experience on Facebook. The students were excited about a recent news story and posted it on their wall. It was a controversial topic and some of their friends commented. Most of the comments were positive, but one commenter was particularly critical in an unfriendly way. It turns out that Mr. Hyper-Critical was not a friend of either of the students, but rather an older relative of a friend. The students were upset and wondered what to do. This, as you might imagine, is the part of the story where my mind immediately started to generate suggestions to help coach the upset students. These included...

  • Taking a Facebook break
  • De-friending the friend (who's friends with Mr. Hyper-Critical) and letting the friend know why
  • Hiding posts and comments from the friend
  • Responding, with some coaching, to address the nastiness
  • Trying not to take the comment personally (considering they don't even know the individual)
  • Deleting the comment
  • Adjusting their Facebook privacy settings so that only friends can comment
  • etc. 
Some, or all, of these suggestions might work out really well, but the best suggestion I heard was directed at Mr. Hyper-Critical. Why did he need to make the comment in the first place? Did he really understand that he was writing critical comments about a post from a teenager? Perhaps he, like many social network participants, has stopped recognizing age in the digital world. Without an obvious cue, we tend to see other participants as the same age we happen to be. Conversely, when communicating face-to-face we modify our responses to fit the specific audience; we respond with our own opinions differently when talking to children, our friends or our parents. However, this recognition of audience differences seems to drop away for some in the digital world, as does civil discourse.  We blame a lot of the negativity we see in the digital world on anonymity or youth. But I see just as much rancor from grown-ups who should know better, including Mr. Hyper-Critical.

So, what does that mean for us? Modeling positive behavior is just as important as telling young people how and why they should be good citizens. I hope Mr. Hyper-Critical read some of the comments our students' friends posted in response and learned something. I also hope that other adults in Mr. Hyper-Critical's circle took the time to send a little constructive criticism his way. I know our students learned something from the experience.

Holly's illuminating post on the experience of collaborative work with 3rd graders from last week shows the importance of real-life participation in understanding how to handle social-media minefields. The 3rd graders learned some valuable tools and heard some constructive criticism from peers.  The high school students on Facebook learned more from their real-world experience than anything Holly or I could have lectured about. The more we practice participation in the digital world with students in and outside the classroom, the better equipped they will be to contribute positively in the future. Perhaps they'll become models of digital citizenship for Mr. Hyper-Critical and other adults who should know better.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Digital Citizenship in Practice

Follow up to the previous post:

Several weeks ago, I wrote about introducing Digital Citizenship to my 3rd graders. We were off to a great start, kids were "getting it," and they had a lot to say about what NOT to do when using technology. Fast forward just two weeks and it became ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that talking about good behavior online wasn't nearly enough...

We use Google Apps for Education at our school, and our youngest students have access to Docs only. Well, last year my most tech-savvy little darlings took all of .4 seconds to figure out how to use Google Docs to "chat" with each other, and they quickly strayed into an off-task environment that was very appealing and enticing, even when they knew their teachers could see everything they were saying! This became ground-zero, if you will, for a whole pile of learning about making good choices and appropriate behavior online. As teachers, we could establish expectations for behavior, discuss the benefits/drawbacks (distractions) of technological tools, and point our kids toward using the chat feature in a helpful, productive way. It doesn't mean that they always made good choices, but when they didn't, we were right there to engage them in a conversation about it.

This year, although we have been using Docs since the start of the school year, we hadn't yet done a big collaborative project where multiple users were trying to edit the same document simultaneously, always an adventure! This year's students hadn't discovered the chat feature yet, and in fact, they didn't discover it until the very end of a class period gone completely awry. Interestingly, in completing an assignment about digital citizenship, they forgot all about what it was...

In class, we have defined Digital Citizenship as using technology safely, responsibly, critically, and proactively.  The assignment associated with this unit is to design posters in Comic Life that teach some of the "rules" in a visual fashion, so before we could get started, we needed to spend some time coming up with those rules, and we had already discovered how hard it is to write rules that start with something other than "don't." I processed about 5 different ways we could build class information and decided to use two methods that would help us brainstorm, while simultaneously showcasing two very different technologies. First, with laptop lids closed, we did a follow up on the previous week's assignment using Inspiration (mind mapping software). Soliciting the kids' ideas out loud, I quickly built a mind map, or diagram, that had some suggestions for rules about using technology proactively.
When we finished, I asked them something to the effect of, "Did anything bother you about doing it this way?" I was hoping someone would point out that I was the only one actually using a computer for the assignment. It is technology class, after all. They got there eventually, and we decided to try an activity where everyone was engaged and using technology. (I should note that we have a rather old version of Inspiration. The kids could have each made their own mind map, but without a subscription to the online collaborative version, called Webspiration, this would have been a solo activity.) So, I introduced the second method of brainstorming, which was to use Google Docs to collaboratively brainstorm a list of ideas all at the same time. We started with a very simple 4-column document:
Knowing this was their first time working on a document shared with more than just one other person, I gave them a small warning about all the colors and user names that would pop-up as people clicked into a box to begin adding content. Our goal was to simply add as many rules as we could think of, starting perhaps with the ones we had written on notecards a few weeks earlier. Deciding which column they fit in was no easy task, but I figured we'd get the ideas down, and then edit for duplicates and wrong categories later. A few students decided right away that they would scroll to the bottom of the page to avoid conflicts with other users, but for the most part, we opened the document and let 'er rip.

I did this with two different classes of students (16 kids in each class...I know how lucky I am), and each handled it a little differently, but in general, they watched all the colored usernames pop up as people joined the document, they spent a couple minutes trying to type things in the table's cells, and then things started to dissolve rapidly....

I watched my sweet, caring, cherubic, brilliant 3rd graders completely lose it, and a very rare few even cackled with glee as they repeatedly interfered with other kids' work and spent their time just clicking all over the screen because they thought it was funny. They were inadvertently highlighting and deleting things right and left. Kids were yelling across the room things like, "YOU SPELLED THAT WRONG!!" and "STOP DOING THAT!" and "WHAT COLOR AM I?" 

Note: as the teacher, you would think I would have put a stop to this immediately. But, this was actually an essential part of the assignment, seeing how they would manage in an online environment where they could do a lot of things, but should they? It was all I could do to let it go on for a while, hoping that they would find a way to turn their behavior around on their own. Self-manage. Peer coach. ANYTHING! 

In one class I had a student near tears because others were vocally criticizing her choice of font size. In the other class someone actually managed to delete the ENTIRE CONTENTS of the document, sending the whole class into a complete tailspin. (I did have a moment of pride when one girl yelled, "WAIT! EVERYBODY COMMAND-Z! UNDO!" The document magically reappeared and a cheer went up. However, there wasn't much useful content there to begin with.)

I hit my limit at about 10 minutes, and then I turned off document sharing and asked the kids to close their lids (our code word for this is "meatball," btw). To be honest, in the first class, I was quite flustered by the time we rolled out the meatballs. I realize how fortunate I am to be in a class where the harshest thing that happened between the kids was criticism of each other's spelling. But to them, it still felt like someone saying, "you're stupid," and feelings were hurt. Every rule we had previously brainstormed about leaving good comments and being nice went flying out the window! "Just because you can doesn't mean you should" was nowhere to be found, even though we say this every single week. Clearly, talking about it wasn't enough. The kids needed to experience an environment where they could put it to the test. And this was an assignment shared just within our classroom, not the world wide web. Students could be identified by their real usernames, not some anonymous ID.

To be fair, I think the majority of kids were actually trying very hard to redirect behavior and get their work done. But we discovered a few "trolls" among us who just didn't listen and could not be swayed from their gleeful interference with other people's work. I could not have scripted this day better if I'd tried.


Now, I'm fully aware that there were plenty of things that made this a challenge, chief among them the fact that it was the kids' very first time doing something like this. All new technologies take time to get used to, and I know that in the future, now that they know what to expect, it will run more smoothly. I'm also aware that sharing one document with too large a group is hard to manage, even for adults. We had a debriefing session about what had happened, what went wrong, what we could improve...and we determined that in our second attempt we would be split into groups, and each group would be assigned a column of the document, so no more than four students were editing in the same general area. Upon opening our laptops again (code word "spicy meatballs") things went much smoother in the next 15 minutes. We had already learned something from our experience, and working together over the next couple of weeks, our document started to take shape:
with a healthy dose of editing from the teacher to remove repeats and help get things in the right category

The kids have since been working on their posters, a few of which I hope to share when they are finished. There were two really great conversations that came out of this experience, though, that I'd like to address.

First, I very honestly asked the question on a lot of adults' minds..."did you learn more (or better) using technology?" When I asked the kids to compare the learning environment in our classroom during the group brainstorm with me creating a mind map versus them editing a shared doc, they could clearly see that things were calmer and at least more orderly during the former. We were able to get quite a few ideas on paper in a relatively short period of time, and because I called on a variety of students to contribute, it felt like just about everyone was engaged in the process. In scenario two, did technology work to our benefit? Or was it just a distraction? The kids definitely thought that it had the tendency to distract, but we also thought that, given practice, we would get better at managing our behavior and we would find more ways to use such powerful tools efficiently. This very idea runs parallel to our definition of digital citizenship in that we start by talking about the do's and don'ts (being safe and responsible), but then we move into the more complicated realm of figuring out how to use technology critically and proactively for our benefit and the benefit of others. Is this the best tool for the job? Can we see other ways to use it that might be helpful? Could this be done better without technology?

Second, when I first uttered "meatballs" in one class, there was total silence as the kids suddenly came out of their haze and took a look around the room. As their eyes found mine, and they read my face, one said, "Oh man, we're in trouble." I assured them I was not angry, but that I had certainly learned quite a bit about and from them by simply watching the spectacle. What happened to everything we thought we knew about being a good digital citizen? How could we have talked about all these rules, but then act like we'd never heard of them? What the heck just happened? We had just experienced an event clearly demonstrating that talking about these ideas is a whole lot easier than practicing them ourselves. I honestly believe they didn't even think we were engaged in an activity that required digital citizenship. This was completely new territory.

In this group, though quite a few kids said "we learned more/better the first way," one brave child raised his hand and spoke very honestly to his classmates. To paraphrase:
Well actually, I DID learn something from this...I was one of the ones doing bad things, and clicking all over the place because I thought it was funny. Now that I can see the effect that had on everyone, I don't think it's funny any more. I'm sorry.
Wow. I couldn't have scripted THAT if I tried, either! Real learning did take place, if not in the traditional fashion. Call it a teachable moment. Call it authentic learning. Call it whatever you want. We need more of it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beyond "The Conversation" About Ethics

Sam and I read this article by David McMillan last week and found we had a lot to say about it (to each other, at least). Mr. McMillan's article calls for a clear, broad, open "conversation" about the role of ethics in social media. Obviously, we couldn't agree more! We have been having that conversation with our students and parents for a couple of years now, but there is always more to do, more to say, more to teach, and more to experience as social media evolves. McMillan offers the following 5 points we need to address:
1) In social media, there is no difference between public and private.
2) Just because you can post something doesn't mean you should. [that rings a bell!!]
3) Your online and offline selves might not be identical, but they're joined at the hip.
4) Will what I post cause harm to others?
5) Finally, call it the Social Media Golden Rule: post about others as you would have them post about you.  (McMillan, How to Ruin Your Life in 14 Minutes: Or Why We Need a Serious Conversation About the Ethics of Social Media)
Great points, all, and I would strongly encourage you to read the entire article for more details on each of the five. While Mr. McMillan wrote this in the wake of a particularly offensive, racist video rant posted online by two teenage girls, it saddens us to think that people might only pay attention to these things when horrid things happen. There are now plenty of "examples" of poor judgment and negative behavior online that we can point to and say, "See? This is what can happen if you don't think before you post." However, a review of these points, as McMillan advocates, needs to happen in an ongoing fashion, before things get out of control. Parents need to talk about it, teachers need to talk about it, EVERYONE needs to talk about it. We need to be far more PROactive in our approach, rather than REactive.

But talking about it isn't enough.

Kids need practice and real-life experience in situations where they have an opportunity to make good choices (or bad ones) and we can then talk more about it from a place of deeper understanding and personal knowledge. As with many things in life, these are more skills where "we learn by doing." Sometimes that means making mistakes, but if we can structure learning opportunities in a relatively safe environment (such as school, in a controlled/internal network), the consequences are likely to be far less severe.  Is that possible? We believe so, and Sam and I will each be sharing examples of how we have modeled the practice of ethical decision-making in some of our lessons.

It is important for us to recognize, in addition, that there is a fair amount of decision-making for which our kids are just not developmentally ready.  Long-term consequences? Our brains aren't truly wired to connect our feelings, actions and consequences until we are late into our teens or even our early-twenties. So how does one prepare an 8 year old for the types of ethical decisions they will be expected to make in the digital world? How does a parent respect their teens' privacy, when what they see their child doing online doesn't seem all that private? How do we stop reacting and start being proactive? The questions and challenges seem endless, but they are the very things that shape good teaching and parenting.

Talking about ethics and social media is a good start, and using resources like David McMillan's article to open "the conversation" is a fantastic idea. But this is not just a one-time, "thanks, I got it!" type of discussion. This is every day, real world, what-kind-of-person-do-you-want-to-be? kind of stuff.  It's HARD.

But we need to keep talking about it. And beyond talking about it, we need to help our kids practice and live it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Resources for Parents

We thank you for joining us at our parent presentation! If you were unable to make it, here's what you missed. Below you will find our slides, along with a compilation of resources and articles that parents might find helpful and informative:

We will continue to add more resources via Facebook and Twitter. Please follow us!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wheelock Library Tuesday 1/24 @ 6PM!

Last week's Parenting in a Digital World discussion at the Gig Harbor library was cancelled due to the "Snowpocalypse" that descended upon the Pacific Northwest. We hope you stayed warm and safe, and we will reschedule soon.

Enough snow has finally melted, however, that we can crawl out of our thawing ice caves and travel to Tacoma's North end tomorrow night at 6:00 pm to chat with parents and teachers at Wheelock Library. We hope you will join us as we share the latest research and resources on kids and media/technology, and our best tips for families navigating the digital landscape.

We look forward to talking with you!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Digital Citizenship in 3rd Grade

Last week I introduced Digital Citizenship to my third graders, not for the first time in concept, but probably the first time with official vocabulary attached to it. After all, citizenship is a big important word, and we really need to know what it means. Forever.

Sometimes my best planned lessons go completely astray, and other times, when I'm engaged in conversation with these young people, amazing things happen that I couldn't have planned in my wildest dreams. Last week, I had one of those really wonderful days, and I was so energized by the participation and understanding demonstrated by the kids, I felt like I gained a whole new way to teach this important concept.

When the kids walked in the door, I handed them a notecard and a pencil, and instructions were written on the board to "Write down one rule that you have learned to keep you safe on the Internet." It didn't matter who taught them the rule, I just wanted to know what came to mind when I asked this question. I collected the cards as the kids got to work on their keyboarding practice, and I flipped through them as they concentrated fiercely on the homerow position. I definitely saw some patterns to their answers, but I was curious to find out if they would see them also.

When keyboarding time was up, I had them gather on the rug with me to go through the cards, but before I read them aloud, I briefly introduced what we would be talking about, explaining that today's kids are growing up in a digital world that is, in many ways, unfamiliar to people significantly older than they are. How do we behave in this environment? Is the digital world different than the real world? Are the rules different? What does it mean that so much of our lives are now online?  My students have never really known otherwise, but those of us from other generations are still adapting to the rapidly changing landscape of this "connected" culture, and sometimes it is hard to keep up with how quickly everything is evolving. My favorite quote of the day came when I asked them to guess how long YouTube has been around. Answers ranged from 10-40 years; it was pretty hilarious. When I told them the answer was actually 7 years, there was that brief moment of "I can't believe it" silence and then this:
WE are older than YouTube!
Yes, indeed. Our digital world has become so interwoven with our real world that many of us can no longer even imagine a day when we couldn't just look up information (or watch our favorite video of cats doing silly things) online, even though it wasn't really all that long ago that we couldn't.

So, back to the cards (spelling changed for your benefit) and the rules we've learned so far: 
  • don't give out your full name or location (never write your last name; never ever give people your name if someone asks you to; never put information about yourself on the internet)
  • don't hack into other people's computers
  • never share your username or password with anyone
  • don't make friends that you don't know in person (NEVER be friends with somebody you don't know; don't chat with other people you don't know; don't talk to strangers on the computer about personal stuff)
  • don't go on pop-ups (don't click on strange pictures or ads because it might have a virus in it; don't click on something unless you know what it is)
  • if you see a bad picture on the internet, tell a grown up
  • don't go to YouTube or Google unless they (your parents) say so; don't go onto websites you are not supposed to or you have been told not to; don't look up bad things
  • don't leave mean comments
  • log out of your accounts when you're done using them
  • don't buy things!
Wow. From what I was seeing, it was quite clear that these kids have heard several messages about safety, which is great! Of course, these rules make a lot of sense for 8 and 9 year olds, but they will inevitably change and adapt as the kids grow older (especially that one about buying things).  I asked them if they noticed anything (anything at all) about the cards as I read them.  Many pointed out that they heard repeated messages from fellow students, that clearly a few of these were so important, everyone knows them. Then one child raised her hand and said, "They all start with DON'T."

Here's where this lesson magically transitioned into my best introduction to Digital Citizenship yet.

I shared with the kids some websites devoted to Digital Citizenship and we looked at a few different pages as we tried to put a definition on the concept. 
"Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use."   --Mike Ribble
This particular definition, while adequate, did not seem "third grade" to me. They hear appropriate and responsible a lot, but who the heck knows what a norm is... While the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship are detailed and helpful, and apply to people of all ages, I was really looking for something simpler that we could sink our teeth into. I particularly wanted to find something they could understand that didn't start with don't.

So here's a definition that I thought was simple enough that we could break down the key points once we really defined the terms being used.

Digital Citizenship means using technology
  • safely
  • responsibly
  • critically
  • proactively for the good of society
I didn't spend much time on "safely" or "responsibly" because we talk about that ALL THE TIME, and I wanted my students to know that there's more to being a good digital citizen than just staying safe. We looked at the word "critically" in more depth, because many of them associated the word with something negative, like "criticism" or "being critical of others." I explained to them that using technology critically was actually a good thing, necessary and wise. Referring back to the cards about ads and pop-up windows, I asked the kids what could happen if they didn't view those things with a critical eye? What happens if you go ahead and click every "You just won a FREE iPad!!" pop-up they see without reading it carefully and looking critically through the fine print? Being a critical consumer of digital media is extremely important, and most of the kids have already been critical users of technology even if they didn't know it. People today are bombarded by media all the time, and it is imperative that we learn how to sift through it all, weeding out the good from the bad. Being critical is critical, if you know what I mean.

I say we didn't spend much time on safety or responsibility, which in a way is true, but we had already spent all that time talking about our rules on the cards, all of which had to do with safety and responsibility. "They all start with DON'T," remember? As we arrived at the fourth way to use technology, "proactively for the good of society," we talked about what we DO, and what we SHOULD DO. Good citizenship isn't just about the don'ts. Of course, we need to follow rules to maintain some semblance of order, but there's so much more to citizenship than that. If we spend all our time focusing on what we shouldn't do, how do we really know what we should do? If we focus only on the ways technology helps us waste time or stir up/get in trouble, how do we see all the ways technology can actually make things better? As citizens of this digital world, we have certain responsibilities to ourselves, but we also have responsibilities to each other. How can we use these abundant digital tools to better our society? What positive contributions can we make? Technology is helping young people all over the world tackle some pretty serious problems. I shared one example, in fact, of graduate students playing video games to crack scientific codes that have baffled AIDS researchers for years (oversimplifying this incredible story)! Technology makes amazing things possible.

The 3rd graders and I ended up having quite a conversation about digital citizenship, and this was just our first shot at it. I was so pleased that the notecards led to the discussion of "don'ts," which naturally fed into the discussion of "do's." I have been trying to shift the students-and-technology conversation toward the positive for a long time. Though safety and responsibility will always be important, those messages have been drilled into them so much that I don't really worry about them as much anymore. Using technology critically and proactively, however, are concepts that need more of our attention. 

As we move toward our talks about digital footprints, I want the kids to think of all the ways they can make sure theirs is a positive one. That might mean that some of their early-childhood don'ts have to change eventually: 
  • Using their real name will be just one important step in crafting an accurate digital footprint. 
  • In our interconnected, global society they will most likely end up chatting with or meeting people online that they don't know in person (remember writing to penpals, anyone?) -- I safely communicate with other educators that I've never met in person all the time -- and at the right developmental age, this will be an okay thing for our students to do.
  • Parents and teachers won't always be looking over their shoulders to make sure they are visiting appropriate websites, but we still want them to know the difference, consider the consequences of their choices, and know what to do if they get into something they shouldn't. 
I strongly hope that by empowering our kids to be safe, responsible, critical, and proactive, they will grow into thoughtful, contributing members of our digital world.

Adapted from my other educational technology blog - Technically...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Public Talks

Happy New Year! Sam and I are taking our show on the road this winter...we hope you will be able to join us for one of these "Parenting in the Digital World" discussions:

January 18, 6:30 pm at the Gig Harbor Library

4424 Point Fosdick Drive NW
Gig Harbor, WA 9833

January 24, 6:30 pm at Tacoma's Wheelock Library

3722 North 26th Street
Tacoma, WA 98407