Saturday, November 19, 2011

Making Fair Use Fun

Classroom lessons about "copyright" and "fair use" usually rank up there on the fun meter right next to “algebraic equations” and “dangling participles.” Even saying the words “fair use,” especially in front of class full of 7th graders, is sure to make their eyes glaze over.  

However, what I learned teaching this lesson (using Common Sense Media’s Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum) can be best summed up as a mathematical equation:  

Relevant + Relatable = Fun

Here’s the relevant part. For most of us, it’s difficult to get a real sense of appreciation for copyright law is until we've created a piece of work we feel is worthy of protection. In other words, it helps to have a little skin in the game. To create this relevancy the class was told that the Happy Birthday song they’ve been singing for years is actually protected by copyright law (yes, it’s true, so if you plan to perform the song in public or include it in a movie, get out your checkbook). So, following the curricular advice of the Common Sense Media unit Respecting Creative Work, the class broke into small groups and created original birthday songs for their teacher.  Here are snippets they shot of their creations.
This lesson became relatable when the students discussed how they would feel if someone sang their song and, a) did not give them credit for it or, b) claimed them as their own. They didn’t like either of these two possible scenarios and were eager for copyright protection of their creative work.

However, when the tables were turned and they were asked to create “mashup" posters using copyrighted materials in a manner that would be considered “fair use” (i.e., using a limited amount, adding new meaning/making it original, reworking/using in a different way), they were eager for the opportunity to dig in and reassemble, reuse, repurpose and rework the work of others. However before attacking the stack of magazines with their scissors, I did notice a moment of pause as many wondered how to credit the authors of the works within the pages. In fact, many of them scanned the pages searching for names to credit (even though this is not always necessary in under the parameters of fair use, it is still good manners to give credit when you can).  

In a world where cut, copy and paste have become almost automatic reflexes, all of this is confusing, murky, grey area stuff. Even as a filmmaker, I found I had to refresh myself on the current state of copyright, public domain and fair use as they apply to all the information (seemingly) freely available on the Internet before I could begin to speak about these things with the students.  In fact I’m still feeling badly about the image at the top of this blog that I found used on multiple other blogs, none of which included an attribution (if anyone knows the creator, contact me!). Luckily I found a world of help in a just published chapter (Toward a Pedagogy of Fair Use for Multimedia Composition) in a new book by Renee Hobbs and Katie Donnelly titled Copy(write): Intellectual Property in the Writing Classroom.

As Hobbs and Donnelly tell us, “the rise of digital media has contributed to greater levels of awareness and sensitivity because ‘the practice of making one’s own music, movie or essay makes one a more self-conscious user of the cultural artifacts of others,’ as media literacy education is part of a broad practice of learning by doing that ‘makes the entire society more effective readers and writers of their own culture’" (Benkler, p. 299, as cited in Hobbs & Donnelly, 2011, pp. 279-280).

I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. In fact, it got me wondering about members of Congress who, ironically, on the same day as we were experiencing this lesson, were debating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a new bill intended to ban allegedly copyright-infringing websites from the Internet. Critics of the legislation say it would strike at the very core of the sharing, openness, and participation that the Internet represents. In fact, many feel this bill could usher in an era of Internet censorship that will make the critical thinking skills like those practiced in this class a pointless waste of time and these students might as well have been filling in bubbles on some mandated state test. I honestly wish at least some members of Congress had gotten to make their own birthday songs and “mashup” posters when they were in school. At least then I’d feel a whole lot better about their abilities to cast an informed vote on this bill. But I digress…

If these students hadn’t had the experience of creating, documenting and feeling proud of their musical numbers, I don’t think they would have tried so hard, as they did, to find the names of those who created the works used in their “mashup” posters. At the very least I believe they learned a valuable lesson that day… that that the old adage, “what goes around, comes around” carries more meaning now, than ever before. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How To Incite a 7th Grade Uprising

Photo: Wesley Fryer

Try this… stand in front of a roomful of 12- and 13-year olds and deliver the following news: “Kids, a team of researchers will be coming to your school to monitor your every move. These observers will record where you go (including the restroom, lunch area, playground, etc.), how long you spend there, whom you talk to, and what you do. The results of this research will help your school administrator customize the school to better meet your needs.” As you deliver this news, don’t forget to watch their expressions transform from uninterested to curious to disbelieving and, finally, to outrage!

Okay, by now you see where this is going. There’s no research company. But this lesson on “Privacy” from Common Sense Media’s free online digital media curriculum did get the attention of this class. So when they learned that this infringement on their privacy wasn’t actually going to happen at their school, but was happening every day in a place where they spend more time than in school -- cyberspace -- well, let’s just say they weren’t happy.  In fact, several students summed up their displeasure as follows, “That’s creepy!

It is creepy. In a front page story from last Sunday’s L.A. Times (Watching a Screen? It Watches You Too) Kevin Bankston, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, “[e]ssentially , each of us is being tailed”. Funny thing is, most of us, like these 7th graders, really don’t think too much about it. Maybe that’s because the upside of all this surveillance can be rather nice- data collection of our behavior patterns allows companies to target us with customized information, like ads for shoes we like or cars we might be likely to drive. This gathering of our personal data happens so invisibly we scarcely notice it. However, when we stop to scrutinize how it happens and then consider just how much information is mined from our simplest online activities you have to admit it is, well, creepy.

Fortunately for this class of 7th graders (who are hopefully home at this very moment examining their Whyville privacy policies), they get to consider all this in class. Our school, Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, has made the bold move of incorporating Common Sense Media’s curriculum into all of its middle school classes. Why does this matter? Because in a few years these students will be able to vote. Maybe they’ll actually pay attention to (and understand) all the privacy-related legislation that continually fails to become law because powerful companies like FaceBook and Google don’t want to relinquish access to our data.  Or maybe they’ll decide they like their information perfectly designed to meet their needs. Either way, at least they’ll be informed citizens of their digital world.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

FakeBook? A Lesson on Identity Construction

(Recently posted on Media Psychology Impact)

Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: (CC)BrianSolis,
www., via Wikimedia Commons.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg created quite a stir recently when he suggested that children under the age of 13 should be allowed on Facebook. He argued that since over 7.5 million children younger than 13 are on Facebook anyway, according to a study by Consumer Reports, we might as well let them join legally (rather than lying about their age). He promised that Facebook would “take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [younger kids] are safe." (Hmmm, I wonder if they’ll be anything like the precautions they take with adults... like those that require constant vigilance over Facebook's changing privacy settings?).

Safety issues aside, are kids younger than 13 really ready for Facebook?  I mean, who among us can’t conjure up a humiliating memory of being made fun of or laughed at by friends, classmates or family after making a silly or socially awkward mistake as a child? Now imagine that same uncomfortable moment played out in the most public of forums and living forever in cyberspace, with potentially vast invisible audiences getting to witness our humiliation. Ouch. That could require years of therapy.

Figuring out whom we are and how to present that self to the world, let alone the virtual world, is the work of adolescence. Both Sigmund Freud and Erik Erickson viewed the years leading up to adolescence as a period of relative calm, or a “latency” stage”, when children are busy developing ego strengths and cognitive skills. “The danger of this stage is an excessive feeling of inadequacy and inferiority” (Erikson, 1963, p. 260). Since opportunities for feeling both inadequate and inferior certainly abound on Facebook, why not give kids a few more years to develop the skills of resiliency on the school playground before setting them loose in the vast landscape of Facebook?

That’s not to say that social networks like Facebook don’t provide a terrific forum for teens, to “write themselves into being” (boyd, 2008, p. 167). There is plenty evidence to suggest that “presenting themselves in different ways online can be a healthy way for young people to explore identities they’d like to ‘try on’, without having to face the consequences of doing so in the offline world. Many young people report feeling they can be more authentic and real online because they don’t have to worry about appearance or other limitation of the offline world” (Common Sense Media, 2011). Stories abound about shy children who blossom socially online and then transfer those positive skills back to their offline worlds.

But even with all its advantages, it’s still a daunting task for teens, or any of us for that matter, to construct and manage our online identities. danah boyd writes about this in Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality (2008) saying that teens are “forced to face the ways in which impression management in networked publics is unlike that which takes place in face-to-face encounters. The technical affordances for defining the situation and presenting oneself are quite different, forcing teens to explicitly articulate their identity, imagine the context in which they are operating, and negotiate the impressions they are conveying with few structures for feedback.

Providing feedback was the work of our 6th grade CyberCivics class. I teach skills to a class of 6th graders that will hopefully help them become good digital citizens. Recently these students interviewed one another in order to create “FakeBook” profiles (on construction paper) of their partners (this lesson was adapted from Common Sense Media). When the students presented these profiles to the class, I was prepared for lots of inappropriate stuff to be shared. That was the purpose of the lesson, after all. But I can report that they have heard our warnings about the dangers of over-sharing online loud and clear.

Additionally, I learned, these kids don’t like people knowing where they are or where they live. This aligns with recent research that shows that kids find location-based services, like Foursquare and Facebook Places, kind of creepy. Interestingly, the only inappropriate stories that came up in class were about parents. Evidently we embarrass them by posting too many photos and silly comments about them and their siblings. They’d really like us to stop.

So does that fact that these 12-year olds seemed cyber savvy beyond their years mean that they’re ready for Facebook? Maybe. Hopefully, several months of Cyber Civics lessons have helped. 

Still, I think years well spent on a playground provide the best lessons of all.


boyd, danah (2008). “Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality” . Retrieved from

Common Sense Media (n.d.). Common sense media education programs. Retrieved from

Erikson, E.H. (1993). Childhood and society(2nd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A CyberCivics Lesson Veers Off Course

Innovation companies today don't ask and don't care about basic skills, grades, or SAT scores—instead, they want to know if you can brainstorm all the possible uses of bubble wrap (Laura Seargeant Richardson, The Atlantic, May 2, 2011).
Last week our 6th grade Cyber Civics class at Journey School engaged in the Common Sense Media lesson called  “Build Your Ideal Community”. I told the students that because a meteorite had hit the earth and wiped out all its online data, they would have the opportunity to create new online communities from scratch.

This lesson is designed to help students learn how policies and practices keep online worlds collegial and safe. We talked about the meaning of governance and charter; I even held up the charter document that governs their own charter school (it weighs about ten pounds) for dramatic effect. So when they went to work (in teams) I expected lots of discussion about how they would govern and manage their domains.

That’s not what happened. 

Don’t get me wrong, every child in that classroom was engaged. But what really got them going was imagining new and wonderful activities for these worlds, and more importantly, how awesome their home page designs would be. They begged me for more time to finish their renderings and they all wanted to know when I was going to teach them how to program these worlds (boy, would I love to introduce these kids to Hackasauras!).

Although it was initially frustrating for me that this lesson veered off course, I realized that all the brainstorming, collaboration and creativity that happened instead was actually its own best lesson. After all, in case you haven’t heard, according to Newsweek the U.S. is experiencing a very serious creativity crisis. In fact, American creativity scores have been inching steadily downward since 1990, and “[i]t is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is most serious” (Bronson & Merryman, 2010, ¶ 6). Much of this is due to the reduction of art classes in elementary school.

This is a big problem. Eighty-five percent of today's companies searching for creative talent can't find it while a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future” (Richardson, 2011). Don’t bother telling the Chinese government about this; they already know. In Shanghai, where students rank 1st in the world in math  (U.S. students rank 31st in case you were wondering), “creativity is part of their national educational plan” (Mayo, 2010).

In a terrific article titled Play Power: How to Turn Around Our Creativity Crisis, Laura Sergeant Richardson writes,
Someday, rather than measuring memorization as an indicator of progress, we will measure our children's ability to manipulate (deconstruct and hack), morph (think flexibly and be tolerant of change), and move (think "with their hands" and play productively). Standardized aptitude tests will be replaced by our abilities to see (observe and imagine), sense (have empathy and intrinsic motivation), and stretch (think abstractly and systemically). We will advance our abilities to collaborate and create.
To reap the rewards of these abilities, we must set aside the myth that play and work are two separate things. Play should be our greatest work, as it is the biggest driver of innovation. Innovation companies today don't ask and don't care about basic skills, grades, or SAT scores—instead, they want to know if you can brainstorm all the possible uses of bubble wrap.
This explains why Henry Jenkins’ new media literacies include skills like play, performance, simulation, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation (Jenkins, 2006).

There are lots if pedagogies to choose from to educate kids, especially if you’re willing to veer off the main road of public education. We made the choice of placing our kids in this school a long time ago, trading the excellent academic track record of our local public school for an environment where they would be immersed in the arts, handwork, hands-on activities and lots of play (it’s a public charter that uses Waldorf teaching methods). Sure this decision cost our kids a few STAR test points early on. But like Laura Sergeant Richardson, I'll trade a few mismarked bubbles on a standardized test for proficiency with bubble wrap any day. Watching these 6th graders, including my daughter, enthusiastically creating imaginary communities with nothing more than a pencil, paper and each other, I know that this creativity, enthusiasm, perseverance and teamwork will pay off in spades during high school (I’ve already seen it with my oldest) and beyond.

This lesson turned out to be right on the mark.


Bronson, P. & Merryman, A. (2010, July 10). The creativity crisis. Newsweek. Retrieved from crisis.html

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robinson, A. J. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Retrieved from   

Mayo, E. (2010, December 9). Here’s why China is beating the U.S. in education. CNN. Retrieved from 

Richardson, L. S. (2011, May 2). Play power: How to turn around our creativity crisis. The Atlantic Monthy. Retrieved May 12, 2011 from crisis.html

Friday, April 22, 2011

Understanding Media's Impact

It’s hard to get through the day without hearing a heartbreaking cyberbullying story. As we watch these stories grab the headlines, it’s helpful to keep in mind what John Palfrey, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives,” said recently, “[c]yberbullying is just bullying that happens to be mediated through digital technologies. There's nothing fundamentally different about it” (2011). 

In fact, overall incidences of physical bullying, thankfully, are in decline. According to a new study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, the percentage of children reporting physical bullying in the past year went down from 22 percent to 15 percent. Additionally, cyberbullying happens a third less than traditional bullying. Nevertheless, even one case of bullying, cyber or otherwise, that results in harm to a child is one case too many.

If there is any upside to our awareness of these stories, perhaps it's the reminder that just because our kids seem tech-savvy at increasingly younger ages, doesn’t mean that their brains have caught up with their digital acumen. According to the renowned developmental theorists, like Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, it takes children about twelve years to develop the cognitive structures that enable them to grasp abstract, metaphoric, and symbolic types of information… logical thinking, in other words. Before twelve, it’s pretty much cognitively impossible for children to fully grasp the effects of their actions upon others, online or otherwise. Yet may of us put powerful digital devices in their hands well before they hit their teens and then react in shock when they use them poorly.

Furthermore, even though most children start thinking logically by twelve, and thus show the beginnings of ethical thinking (which requires logical thinking as a prerequisite, btw), new brain science has found that certain parts of the brain are still not fully functional until about age 25. Guess which part of the brain takes the longest to mature? The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that just happens to be largely responsible for impulse control (I know, this seems like a cruel joke on those of us with teens learning to drive cars and to navigate the information superhighway).

So although a teenager might understand, for example, the impact of nasty text message upon its recipient, the part of their brain that warns… “hey, hold on a minute, better not hit send” isn’t fully operational yet. So guess what happens? The message gets sent.  

So, short of taking away mobile phones and computers until well after college graduation, what's a parent to do? Well, according to a recent article in Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning“[e]ducators and parents nationwide are turning to new digital citizenship curricula to help students understand their rights and responsibilities online” (Jackson, 2010).  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concurs. In a recently released clinical report, The Impact of Social Media Use on Children, Adolescents and Families,” the AAP states that the answer to our concerns about cyberbullying and the like, is digital literacy, both for students and their parents.

Our “Cyber Civics” classes at Journey School have been underway for a couple of months now. We’re currently working on Common Sense Media’s  “Connected Culture” unit which addresses the issue of cyberbullying. One of the games we've played, called “You Chart It”, has students use their ethical thinking skills to evaluate situations that can happen in cyberspace. For this game we made two x and y axes on the floor with masking tape, labeling them as seen below…

After listening to stories describing different online scenarios (in one, for example, a boy posts an unflattering close-up of his friend’s face that causes the friend to be made fun of at school), the students were asked to take the point of view of the person who took the action. They had to imagine a point on the y axis that stood for how intentional or unintentional this person’s actions were, and to imagine a point on the x axis that stood for how helpful or hurtful that person’s actions were and then take a place on that spot. 

I’ve played this game a couple times with adults. They almost always think the young “perpetrators'” actions were unintentional (“I’m sure he had no idea what he was doing…”).  Here’s what the kids thought...

It is apparent, at least to me, that these 12-year olds are fully capable of the ethical thinking required to puzzle through the consequences of their actions. So will any of these kids be the ones who, despite understanding the impact of their actions, hit “send”? Maybe. Nobody can make their brains mature any faster than nature intended. However, we can help them exercise the muscles of wise decision-making by discussing and considering these scenarios well before they occur. We are fortunate that, at Journey School, we get to spend a few precious school-time hours practicing these skills.

I wish all kids were so lucky.


Jackson, S. (2010, December 7). Parents’ Reaction to Cyberbullying Underscores the Need for Digital Citizenship Education. Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning. Retrieved April 18, 2011 from

Palfrey, J. (2010, October 1). Cyberbullying and a Student's Suicide. The New York Times. Retrieved April, 18 from

Friday, April 1, 2011

Imagining Digital Footprints in 2021

From: Common Sense Media

Not too long ago I attended a presentation at our local high school given by Glen Warren, a passionate information and digital literacy advocate who’s the V.P. of Government Relations for the California School Library Association (CSLA). He said that students today need to do more than just protect their digital reputations, they need to actually “do positive stuff online” so that their digital footprints speak volumes about their character. 

We already know that future employers will likely go to the Internet to do background checks on these students before entrusting them with jobs. Additionally, colleges and universities are starting to rely on digital interactions when deciding which students get letters of acceptance. For example, I learned about from The Media Psychology Blog. It’s a social networking-like site that lets students post profiles and links about themselves that are viewed by college admissions officers. Based on the idea that a student is “more than a test score” (really?!?), this site provides a good example of how a digital footprint is our new first impression.

That’s why the 6th graders in our Cyber Civics class at Journey School took a proactive approach imagining and designing their own digital footprints; the ones they want the world to see in ten years. Judging by the things they scrawled into their footprint outlines (from Common Sense Media’s “Digital Citizenship” curriculum), it was a class full of future presidents, professional soccer players, artists, scientists, musicians, gamers, fashion stylists and more. Some were going to achieve renown by eating themselves to greatness and others were going to win the Nobel Peace prize, the Heisman trophy, feed the homeless and perform hundreds of pet rescues (frankly, I’m most excited about the Horchata-flavored ice cream). Even if only a fraction of these digital dreams do come true, I think it will be a future we can all look forward to.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning About Digital Footprints

When asked about the UCLA student who recently posted a disparaging video on YouTube (see last blog) that ultimately led to her withdrawal from school, Robert Hernandez, a professor of Internet journalism at USC, said her story serves as a reminder of the need to be aware of your “digital footprint” in the Internet age.

Understanding the impact of one’s digital footprint is challenging, even for those of us who have been online for a long time. We see examples of adults being digitally disastrous every day, maybe not to the extent of the UCLA student, but certainly we can all think of someone who has shared too much information or posted a photo that makes us cringe. So imagine the difficulty of trying to introduce the concept of a “digital footprint” to a roomful of sixth graders who are just making their first voyages into cyberspace.

To teach this concept we used curricular materials from Common Sense Media and adapted them to make the lesson particularly relevant to these students. As part of a recent Business Math block, this class started what turned out to be a very successful pie-making/selling business called “Sweetie Pies” (they made and sold hundreds of pies over the holidays). So we told the students that “Sweetie Pies” needed to hire a national spokesperson, and as owners of the company it was their job to consider two applicants, Jason and Linda, and look at their “digital footprints”.

After conducting this digital background check, the students were asked which candidate they should hire based upon the following criteria: who was more honest and who worked well with others? They broke into small groups to ponder this decision.

Most of the students came to the conclusion that neither of the candidates should be hired (only a couple considered the possibility that the digital information may not have been 100% accurate). So we presented the class with some additional digital food-for-thought.

I think I could actually hear the wheels turning inside their heads (it's a beautiful sound, btw) as these 12-year old's pondered the fine line that exists between the digital information about ourselves that we can control and that which we can’t. These children are entering a world that requires much greater critical thinking than ever before, because the consequences of one or two false moves in cyberspace is tremendous. Just ask that UCLA student.


Common Sense Media (n.d.). Common sense media education programs. Retrieved from

Lovett, I. (2011, March 15). U.C.L.A. Student’s Video Rant Against Asians Fuels Firestorm. New York Times. Retrieved from

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's All About Community

Last Friday Mr. Keller’s class and I explored the notion of community in our Cyber Civics class. I learned a lot. We talked about what Common Sense Media calls “The Rings of Responsibility”, that is, we all have responsibilities to three entities: ourselves, our friends and family, and to the larger community. This holds true whether we are offline or online. Responsibility and respect know no digital boundaries.

    From: Common Sense Media

The sixth graders enumerated all the things that can cause a community to break down: meanness, gossip, lies, exclusion of others, unwanted matchmaking, pretending to be something/someone you aren’t. It was a good lesson. I came home determined to be a kinder member of all my communities.

I couldn’t help thinking of these 6th graders over the weekend when I heard about the third year political science student at UCLA who videotaped herself ranting about Asian students in her school community and then posted the video on YouTube for all the world to see.  While this brings up all kinds of questions about the ethical thinking (or any kind of thinking, for that matter) required to get into a university like UCLA (a subject for another blog), you do have to feel sort of sorry for the girl. After all, her lapse in judgment will live on in cyberspace for the rest of her life.

In Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the Good Play Project (2008) authors James, et al, explore the "ethical fault lines" that young people experience online and remind us, 

Mentors play an important role teaching young people to view themselves as participants who do not simply use media, but shape it.  This perspective is echoed by Jenkins et al. (2006) who consider the new media literacies to entail not just traditional literacy skills such as writing and research, but social and ethical skills as well. Youth need social skills to interact with the larger community and see themselves as part of it.  Furthermore, they need to be thoughtful and reflective about their actions. These key skills are not learned in a vacuum, and certainly cannot be assumed to accompany technical skills. Here the responsibility lies with adults (educators, policymakers, parents, etc.) to provide young people with optimal supports for good play and citizenship. (pp. 42-43)

So while I can’t begin to imagine any of the 6th graders in Mr. Keller’s class ever having a similar lapse in judgment, it is important to remember that part of the job of being young is making mistakes. But, hopefully, if any of them are tempted to make a mistake that might break down a community they belong to, like this poor UCLA student did, they’ll think back to what they learned from their classroom community one Friday morning.


James, C., Davis, K., Flores, A., Francis, J.M., Pettingill, L., Rundle, M. & Gardner, H. (2008). Young people, ethics, and the new digital media: A synthesis from the Good Play Project (GoodWork® Project Report Series, Number 54).  Project Zero, Harvard School of Education. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Using Stealth to Innovate Education

Seeing many of the scholars cited in my capstone at this weekend’s Digital Media & Learning Conference, not only did I feel like a 12-year old at a Justin Bieber concert, I also felt immensely excited about our Cyber Civics project at Journey School. This conference was brimming with innovative ideas supported by scholarly research on how digital media can transform public education, yet an underlying current of reality reminded us that it basically takes an act of God to get innovation into the classroom. One of the weekend’s popular tweet/retweets captured this sentiment best: Schools are seen as tangential in a lot of these sessions... they are the elephant in the room that DML needs to work with. Instead of waiting for divine intervention, we need to find another way in.

Concerns about online safety and privacy appear to be the biggest roadblock to inserting digital media into the classroom. Hearing Anne Collier say that “citizenship and media literacy need to be taught from the moment a connected device is put in a child’s hands” and that “kids need to be practicing digital citizenship, not in media labs, but in their core curriculums” (another popular tweet/retweet), it dawned on me that not only is this a developmentally-wise approach, it’s also a stealthy way to seep digital media into traditional education. I think danah boyd’s comment that “stranger danger rhetoric is dangerous” is right on the money. Instead of filling children with fear (there’s plenty of people who do that already), why not arm them with the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate the ethical decisions that loom in cyberspace? Perhaps when adults feel children are armed and ready, we will have more confidence in their ability to make wise digital choices. As Jason Ohler (2010) writes, “the best Internet filter available: the one between their ears”.

That’s why I love the curriculum that Common Sense Media offers. It’s pre-emptive. For the 28 children we are working with at Journey School this will be their first exposure to “technology” in the classroom. Additionally, because this is a Waldorf-inspired charter school, many of these students have had limited media exposure at home. A veritable tabula rasa, so to speak.  

Think of it like Driver’s Ed. Once students learn how to drive safely, we can put them in the driver’s seat and let them show us what tools work best to practice the new media literacy skills the Henry Jenkins and his team write about in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

That’s an educational environment I’d like to see while my children are still young.


Common Sense Media (n.d.). Common sense media education programs. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robinson, A. J. (2006).Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Retrieved September, 12, 2010 from 

Ohler, J.B. (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cyber Civics at Journey School

Having recently received an M.A. in Media Psychology and Social Change from UCLA/ Fielding Graduate University, I was eager to put my studies to work. Although I found every facet of media psychology absolutely fascinating, I was particularly drawn to media literacy (my Capstone topic: "New Media Literacy Education: A Developmental Approach"), primarily because I’m a parent of school-aged children. My daughters attend a Waldorf-inspired public charter school in Southern California  (well, actually, one just completed grades K-8). Those who know anything about Waldorf education probably know two things: 1) this pedagogy it terrific for developing creativity and critical thinking skills, 2) this pedagogy eschews the use of technology (often until 8th grade)… a curious dichotomy in the current educational environment. 

There is another fact about Waldorf-inspired schools, however, that is equally curious. Research (Hether, 2001) shows that Waldorf-educated students score significantly higher in moral reasoning than do students from traditional public high schools and a religiously affiliated high school. In fact, Waldorf educated students score in a range that that would be more commonly associated with college graduates.

Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to explore a possible way for Waldorf-inspired schools to integrate new media literacy into their curriculum. Since the times they are a changin', Waldorf-inspired schools in general are realizing that they must find a way to do this. So, having tackled this dilemma on paper, I am now enjoying the opportunity of putting my research to work by conducting a pilot program with the 6th grade class at Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA. We are calling it "Cyber Civics" as it takes place during what was this class' civics block.

We just completed lesson one yesterday. This lesson was adapted from Jason Ohler's book "Digital Community; Digital Citizen" (2010) which advocates for a “whole school approach to behavior that sets the entirety of being digitally active within an overall ethical and behavioral context” (p. 145). Thinking that these schools may already have a head start in this area, I figured his approach to new media literacy would be an ideal place to begin.

We spent our time together yesterday doing what Ohler suggests, becoming "De-Tech-Tives". The children pondered the positive and negative impacts of different technologies... from the television to eyeglasses, the printing press to hair dryers! The class broke into small working groups to discuss various impacts, imagined ways in which they would have improved the technology had they invented it themselves, and finally presented their "findings" to one another. Their homework assignment this week is to interview a parent or grandparent and ask what life was like before the mobile phone and how it has impacted their lives, for better and for worse.

Our plan is to adapt and piece together a curriculum, much it from Ohler’s book and also from the Digital Citizenship curriculum offered by Common Sense Media that is based on the digital ethics research of Dr. Howard Gardner and the GoodPlay Project at the Harvard School of Education. The overall goal of the Common Sense curriculum is to “empower young people to harness the power of the Internet and digital technology for learning, and for them to become safe, responsible, and respectful digital citizens” (Common Sense Media, 2010). 

That is our goal too. Stay tuned for photos and updates.


Common Sense Media (n.d.). Common sense media education programs. Retrieved from

Hether, C. A. (2001).  The moral reasoning of high school seniors from diverse educational settings (Ph.D. dissertation, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center). Retrieved November 10, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text (Publication No. AAT 3044032).

Ohler, J.B. (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.