Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Gift Kids Really Want: A Digital Parent!

Yesterday I taught one of my favorite Common Sense Media lessons during a 6th grade Cyber Civics class. Called “Chart It,” this lesson challenges students to think through online ethical dilemmas — like a friend posting an unflattering photo on Facebook, a classmate cutting and pasting freely from the Internet for a homework assignment, or a girl posting misinformation on her blog. This lesson helps kids explore whether online acts like these are intentional or unintentional, and meant to be hurtful or helpful.

We spend a lot of time in this class sharing examples of online interactions like the ones above. And parents, I really hate to be the bearer of bad news, particularly right before the holidays, but guess what? Most of their examples involve us. Here’s what the kids say:

-My mom intentionally posted an unflattering photo of me on Facebook that was embarrassing and hurtful.

-My parent posted a picture of our family in Hawaii unintentionally showing us away for the holidays. This could end up being helpful to burglars.

You get the idea.

After one of these lessons, a boy said to me, “You really should be teaching this class to our parents.”

Get Digital is a course created exactly for this reason.

This series of online, self-paced lessons helps grownups understand the essentials of digital life. In fact there is a whole unit of classes in this course on “Digital Citizenship” that includes many of the lessons I’ve been teaching to kids for the past four years. Just launched in time for the holidays, this CyberWise Certified course makes a great gift for teachers tasked with teaching digital literacy, parents looking to understand the digital world our kids inhabit, and administrators looking to understand how digital media impacts education. It’s a gift that delivers lifelong returns.

When I told the kids about “Get Digital” for grownups, they immediately wanted to know if it included lessons about the social networks they love most, like Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. (It does).

Here are a few other precious take-aways for parents from the kids:
  1. Don’t talk so much on the phone in the car or in public places.
  2. Learn some of the online games we play, and maybe even play with us.
  3. When something bad happens, instead of restricting us from technology, help us understand and talk about it first.
  4. No smartphones or iPads/tablets at school and sporting events, please.
  5. Help me do my schoolwork online (telling me not to use Wikipedia doesn’t count).
  6. At least try to learn more about social media and technology so we can talk about it with you.
In other words, get digital. We hope to see you online!

A Case for Cyber Civics

Cross-Posted on iKeepSafe's Blog.

My daughter, who is busy working on her college applications, received this message from her counselor yesterday:

Just received an email from the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC)… a friendly reminder that colleges are reading your social media.

Today, in addition to having a sky-high GPA and equally impressive test scores, kids also need to have a squeaky clean “digital footprint.” Unfortunately, by 12th grade that “digital footprint” might as well be set in stone, it’s permanent and it started taking shape the day they posted their first picture on Facebook.

Last week I introduced the concept of the “digital footprint” to a sixth grade class just starting to use social media to define themselves to the world. Pretending they had to hire someone for a job at their school, students conducted “background checks” on potential candidates by studying each applicant’s social media accounts. What they learned through this exercise is that everything you say and post online, and everything other people say or post about you, becomes part of your “digital footprint.” This is the same digital footprint that college admissions officers will potentially see and judge them by; the same digital footprint that will help shape their future.

I’m fortunate to be able to spend an hour per week with grades 6-8 teaching CyberCivics. We cover important topics like online reputations, online safety, copyright, plagiarism, cyberbullying, and more. According to research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, our kids are spending more time online than in school or with their families. So I was surprised to read in the L.A. Times earlier this week, this concern posed about teaching students lessons on “copyright”:

"While it's certainly a worthy topic of discussion with students, I'm sure some teachers would have a concern that adding anything of any real length to an already packed school day would take away from the basic curriculum that they're trying to get through now," said Frank Wells, spokesman for the California Teachers Assn.

That was a concern at our school too, however in the three years of our pilot program the school’s API (Academic Performance Index) score has risen steadily and significantly, despite the loss of “academic” time. It’s also given the administrator more time too, as incidences of “cyberbullying” and such that used to find their way into his office a couple times per week have virtually vanished since we started the program.

It's ironic that the prevailing attitude is that there is no time to educate students about their digital behaviors when it's these very behaviors that could prevent them from pursuing a higher education in the first place.