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Teaching and Raising Digital Citizens

1 Jul 2015 by Robyn Itule

Many conversations about education hinge on a single question: “What are the outcomes?” Whether we’re discussing testing or the social and cultural significance of a program, philosophy or technology, this is the bottom line.

Technology in education has produced some tremendous outcomes in terms of access to information, experiences and evaluation. But as with any great venture, the unforeseen consequences — both good and bad — are part of those outcomes.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) 2015 Conference and Expo has played host to many of those conversations. With technology tangibly present in schools and homes, educators and administrators have spent significant time discussing the outcomes they experienced and the new scenarios they are having to navigate.

It starts at home.

While schools and districts have been contemplating how they use technology in the classroom, the same considerations haven’t always been applied at home. For parents, technology arose as part of their jobs and social lives. Then, without much conscious effort, it became a toy, a tool and a potential distraction.

In a presentation titled “Raised by Siri: A Course in Digital Parenting,” Carl Hooker — an educator from Austin, Texas — tackled the triumphs and travails of parenting digital natives. He focused the conversation on how adults (parents and teachers) model technology use. Silence reigned when Hooker asked, “Are your kids looking at you or the screen? Gut check: Are you looking at your screen or your kids?”

Hooker challenged parents to put down their devices and engage face to face. That’s not easy in a multitasking, always-connected world, but efforts to establish moderation are key for development, and also for social graces.

Another angle Hooker addressed is the idea that technology time is not meant to be purely consumptive. Screen time can be engaging and interactive when delivered appropriately — it’s an imperative teachers are calling for in schools and in the home. This requires parents to discover how to leverage technology tools for learning. It also requires good listening on the part of teachers as parents share the realities of technology in their homes and in their children’s lives.

There’s no such thing as anonymous.

In the “good old days,” we had note passing, not texting. Instead of Instagram, we had pictures in lockers. Report cards went home as keepsakes; they weren’t stored in district data centers. Now, digital record keeping from very young ages keeps a shockingly granular and complete picture of students’ lives.

The outcome of this pool of performance and interpersonal information has yet to be seen in full. But as a growing number can attest, that digital information can result in very real consequences ranging from college admissions — or denials — to legal issues.

One example Hooker gave was related to the social platform Yik Yak, an anonymous, location-based app. Not once but twice since the app’s release, students have posted bomb threats. Once reported, law enforcement was able to track down the posters by IP address.

Teaching students that their actions on social media are accessible and permanent is only one part of the equation. Parents and teachers are banning together to provide children with an understanding of digital citizenship — a new style of etiquette for interacting with others and portraying yourself as an individual on the Internet.

While students are being asked to take responsibility for their digital behavior and conduct, schools must turn a mirror on themselves and determine if their data retention and protection policies reflect the same standards.

Only when students, parents and teachers all live up to the same requirements will we truly be responsible digital citizens.