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We Spent a Month on Digital Citizenship and Here's What Happened

What our school district tried, and what happened next.

Pamela Voyles | November 17, 2016

Parents worry about what their children will find and do online, but schools can help students stay safe by teaching them the basics of digital citizenship. This is exactly what my district, Port Aransas ISD in Port Aransas, Texas, is doing: using the month of October to teach digital citizenship lessons at the elementary school, middle school, and high school. Last year, the district tried teaching the lessons in April, but it was a hectic time with state-mandated testing and everything else that happens toward the end of the school year.  

We used Common Sense Education's resources to help students become more aware of their digital presence, digital footprint, and digital impact with an overall focus on helping students stay safe online. Common Sense offers complete lessons that include discussion topics, questions for reflection, videos, and worksheets; our teachers have been able to use the lessons, adding information specific to their classrooms or campuses when needed.

For example, the elementary school kids got to use Padlet for the Rings of Responsibility lesson, while elementary, middle, and high school students used Kahoot to create class quiz games that really worked to engage student learning. High school students got to create digital citizenship posters using Pic Collage, Piktochart, or Canva. The posters are now on display in the library and the hallways.   

In addition, the students have been shown ways to maximize success while using online resources. This led into such topics as copyright and fair use. The students have been shown how to access and use the Port Aransas Library online subscriptions within Britannica School. The lower grades enjoyed using National Geographic Kids, and the older students really liked Gale’s Student Resources in Context.  

The high school principal asked specifically that issues relating to social media be addressed. The video Brittney's Story - Posting Something You Regret was a great lead-in to the lesson. The middle school and high school students liked that the videos have teens sharing their stories, and teachers took advantage of the moment to discuss cyberbullying and online cruelty. Many teachers have come back and told me that students are talking about the lessons in class and really taking to heart what has been discussed.

The district-wide focus on digital citizenship has had a direct impact on the school culture. Many students have made references to things they've learned while working on other assignments or contributing to class discussions. Just this week a student was downloading an app and said, "I guess I should read this agreement before I sign it since you talked about this in class."

Students are more aware of what they're posting and have a better understanding of what should and should not be posted online. Some of the students have told me they haven't posted something because they wouldn't want someone else to post such a comment about them. Our district is proud that our efforts have had some positive effects on the school environment and helped students become more aware of what it means to be a good digital citizen.

We hope that our students make better decisions online and that they understand there are consequences for poor decisions online. Our district is giving a special shout-out to Common Sense Education for providing lessons we have been able to use to promote digital citizenship.