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.