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

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Teens and #DigCit - Attempting to 'Go Viral'

modified from Flickr 
It's been a big week for me in the land of Digital second trimester students published their blog posts a few days ago, and the grand experiment to actually "practice what we preach" is underway once again!

Sam and I have now been working on Ethics 4 A Digital World for over three years. Our thinking, teaching, and practice have evolved right along with the digital landscape with which we are trying to keep up. Always on the lookout for ways to really practice with students the critical thinking that being a good digital citizen requires, I jumped at the chance this year to teach a ninth grade seminar on this very topic.  I love everything about this class...except that I only get to see my students for two days a week for 11 weeks. So my teaching partner (another amazing librarian, how did I get so lucky?) and I had to really think and plan for what we could accomplish in the amount of time we have been given, which, in actuality, is a huge gift...many schools do not make time for digital citizenship at all.

I knew that I wanted to give students as much exposure to as many digital tools as was reasonable, and provide for them spaces where they could openly talk about issues, practice their skills, learn some new things, and start (or continue) to build a digital footprint that reflected who they are as thoughtful contributors to our world. I wanted to show them how they could use social media for good things, to make a difference for others.  I also really wanted to squeeze some media literacy into the course, because I am a firm believer that the future media our kids create has the power to change some minds and attitudes, and not just perpetuate the same tired stereotypes we see all the time (which, coincidentally, is the source of so much "bad" behavior online).  So I began by writing my kids a personal statement about my wishes for them, and why I see our class time as valuable and important as they grow up surrounded by media and technology.

More than half of our 11 weeks together is spent researching, writing, and commenting for a class blog. Current events in tech/media-land play a large role in our discussions, so I began curating my Pinterest boards in a different way, creating boards for some of the broader categories we cover. I put everything on the "Hot Topics" board initially, but that quickly grew out of control. By separating them, I could actually assign kids to find an article to share about a particular topic (in short weekly assignments), and let them start with the board as a jumping off point. What has happened is that each student reads and shares one article in greater depth, but he or she has scanned all the other headlines and images in the search for something of interest, so exposure has widened. I like that. When it came time to finally narrow the focus and choose one topic for a blog post, many kids started with the Pinterest boards, and quickly moved on to find other resources from online newspapers, our class Twitter feed, library databases, and sites like

Fast forward through Edmodo, Noodle Tools, Google Docs, and Blogger...skill building happens in these spaces, and I don't mean to diminish the real work, but the fun stuff, and what I most want to share, is still coming! (if you're an educator and want more details, please contact me)

Now that we have finally hit the fantastic orange "Publish" button on our blog posts, magic happens. I am cashing in on 6 years worth of building my digital footprint and personal learning network, sharing our work as far and wide as I possibly can with the tools at my disposal. I am encouraging my students to do the same so they can get as much feedback as possible. And, to be honest, I share the visitor stats with them so we can learn a little something about web traffic and analytics...but they've sort of turned it into a contest to see who can get the most hits. Game on!

Local teens sharing intimate "confessions" on Twitter
Sadly, it's stories like this that give teens a bad reputation.
Sharing our work via social media has led to a new development on the horizon. The very day we published our latest round of blog posts, February 13th, my sister was listening to a local talk radio show discussing a negative story involving teenagers and Twitter and heard the host earnestly lament that parents and schools need to be doing more to educate kids. (AGREED!) She immediately messaged the radio hosts about our blog, and our Ethics 4 A Digital World Facebook feed, and the producer of the show contacted me almost immediately. He invited me and a couple of students to be interviewed on the radio about our class and what we are learning. WOW! Stay tuned for more info on that...

Aside from the thrill of getting everything out there, though, one of my favorite things about this project is the change I see in my kids when they realize that people are actually reading their work and value what they have to say. As one student from first trimester put it in his reflection, "Blogging has been a great learning experience for me. I feel like I'm actually talking to someone, whereas if you're writing an essay it isn't directly at anyone." Some of my students changed their minds a bit after being swayed by earnest commenters, some had to do further research to answer questions, and some found more strength in their own convictions after interacting with others. It was rewarding to witness the process. This time around we have just entered the truly interactive portion of the project, and our blog has become a real space in which we can practice digital citizenship by moderating comments and engaging our readers in civil discourse.

Would you care to join us? Good things can go 'viral' too. :)

9th Grade Digital Citizenship Blog
Class Website (more project details are available here)
@cwadc9 on Twitter
Ms. Gerla on Pinterest

Student Posts from Trimester 2

My Parents Posted WHAT about me!
Is Technology Negatively Affecting Our Health?
M for Misleading
Are Password Restrictions Doing More Harm Than Good?
My Photo, My Choice?
The NSA: National Snooping Agency?
What is Rape Culture?
Video Games and Education, Can They Mix?
Is the Internet Taking Over Your Life?
Reading Between the Lines: Privacy Agreements
Photoshopping: Crossing the Path of Enough?
Male Ideal Corruption by Media?
Safe and Secure Photo Sharing? Not!
Marketing Tactics Are Taken Way Too Far
Social Networking: It's Harming you!
Tracking You Online...What's Going On?
Your Online Privacy is Fading Quickly!
How Should Cyberbullies be held accountable?
Is Gaming a Brain Drain?
Don't Ruin Your Chances of Getting the Job
Cyber-bullies Should Pay
Online Dating Dangerous for Teens?