Supporting teachers in digital citizenship is a win-win for all.

teacher with elementary school students looking at ipad

Improving the way students learn using technology requires more than just high-quality instructional resources like lessons and facilitation guides. It requires creating a culture of digital citizenship that involves students, faculty, and parents -- a whole-community approach. I talked with Kelly Mendoza, senior director of learning and engagement for Common Sense Education, about digital citizenship, new resources available to professional development leaders in districts, and how educators can get started in their own school communities.

What challenges do schools face with tech integration?

Kelly: Digital media and technology hold great promise for supporting K–12 education, yet successfully implementing digital learning initiatives can be challenging. Whether you're 1-to-1 or BYOD or you have a lab or tech cart, teachers face issues with students' use of devices that disrupt learning. Challenges such as cyberbullying, online oversharing, privacy violations, and evaluating trustworthy information online can impact the use of technology for learning. These are issues that every teacher faces.

What is "digital citizenship," and why do schools need to address it?

Kelly: Digital citizenship is a set of skills focused on behaving safely, thinking critically, and participating responsibly in the digital world. These are 21st-century skills that are essential for students to be able to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and create effectively with technology. As schools integrate technology, creating a culture of digital citizenship among students, faculty, and parents is essential. It's not just the tools, it's the culture built around how the tools are used for learning.

Can you say more about what you mean by a "culture of digital citizenship"?

Kelly: A culture of digital citizenship means that administrators, faculty, students, and parents are committed to using technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. This goes beyond having students sign an acceptable use policy or responsible use policy. It's really about harnessing technology for learning and life. School leaders can communicate their commitment to parents, support educators, and galvanize students around these expectations.

This is the work we've been doing for the past several years at Common Sense Education. We help schools and districts navigate these thorny issues by providing award-winning resources to help teachers and students harness technology for learning and life. We strongly advocate a whole-community approach to digital citizenship. That's why we provide resources for students, a parent-education program, and robust professional development (PD) for teachers. Most all of our digital citizenship resources are free and available to educators. We also offer a Common Sense Schools recognition program for schools and districts that are teaching students digital citizenship, engaging parents, and working to create this culture.

How can we support educators in teaching digital citizenship?

Kelly: Three main factors contribute to a strong culture of digital citizenship in a school. First, leaders and administrators who are committed to digital citizenship can lead the effort. Oftentimes we see digital citizenship as a core piece of a school or district's technology vision statement, going beyond just having students sign an acceptable use policy at the start of the school year.

Second, educators need to be supported in teaching and implementing digital citizenship. This is a new topic to many educators, but the principles are based in social-emotional learning, and the topic can be woven into different subject areas such as ELA, social studies or civics, and computers and technology. We even see science and math teachers teaching digital citizenship. To support educators, Common Sense Education provides a variety of professional development offerings for K–12 educators, librarians, and tech specialists to help them address digital citizenship in their schools.

And now we have the potential to build capacity in teachers through our online digital citizenship courses with PCG. We know that teachers have limited time, and districts are increasingly integrating online, asynchronous courses into their job-embedded PD frameworks. Other districts will use the courses as a foundational element in a larger blended PD sequence to promote peer-to-peer interaction and collaborative planning. These courses help immerse teachers in the topics and provide them practical advice on teaching digital citizenship using our free K–12 curriculum and interactive games.

The last factor in creating a culture of digital citizenship is engaging parents in this issue. We offer plenty of free resources and ways to do this, all outlined in the digital citizenship courses.

How can schools get started?

Kelly: First they should consider who will be the leads in the effort at their school (or district) and put together a core team. This team can define their goals in digital citizenship: What do they hope to accomplish? How can they measure their success? We have a great number of helpful resources in the Digital Citizenship section of our website to guide a team's thinking and help them take practical next steps.

In addition to the core resources for instruction and community engagement on our website, we just launched a series of online courses for educators to build a solid understanding of major topics in digital citizenship and begin teaching lessons in a systematic way. The courses are flexible enough to be taken independently or as part of a cohort within their district's larger, job-embedded PD framework. For more information, or to reach out with questions, see the Online Courses page on our website.

Michael W.

Michael is a blended learning specialist at PCG, working with school districts and educational organizations to implement quality, job-embedded blended and online learning for teachers. He got started as bilingual teacher in Los Angeles and was later Director of Innovative Professional Development in New York City Schools, a faculty member at the Pace University School of Education, and a literacy consultant at Teach For America. His non-digital pastimes include Bikram yoga and woodworking.