Blog

How LA Unified Cultivates Districtwide Digital Citizenship

Read about a district's commitment to empowering and collaborative online engagement.

November 15, 2017
Vanessa Monterosa Ed.D.
School district administrator
Los Angeles Unified School District
Los Angeles, CA
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship

Not long ago, the term "digital citizenship" connoted cyberbullying, privacy, safety, and security. Over the years, the term has grown to encompass so much more, such as empowerment, community, and collaboration. Much like the term has continued to evolve, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LA Unified) efforts, known as #DigCitLA, have expanded with the growth of digital citizenship awareness. In partnering with Common Sense Education since 2014 for our inaugural Digital Citizenship Week (DCW), we have remained committed to cultivating the empowering and collaborative practices of online engagement and technology use throughout our schools. As the nation’s second-largest school district -- with 1,000 schools and more than 550,000 students -- that is no easy task.

Digital citizenship can effectively become part of the curriculum when teachers are comfortable in weaving it through their instructional practices. And when teachers want to learn more about incorporating digital citizenship in the classroom, Common Sense Education provides a wealth of resources to help them take that first step. When it comes to digital citizenship districtwide implementation, it still remains unchartered territory as many districts navigate the process in a variety of ways.

While classroom implementation is important, creating a comprehensive spectrum of supports is critical to preparing students to live, work, and thrive in today's world.

At the district level, we at LA Unified have been exploring what it means to provide central support for digital citizenship, and we are happy to share our experience. With a dedicated and focused team within the district’s Division of Instruction, the Instructional Technology Initiative has been working tirelessly to plant the seeds of #DigCitLA districtwide. Our leadership works to build coherence through district policies that address digital citizenship while working with school-site leaders to incorporate digital citizenship into the classroom. So what does that look like?

Building #DigCitLA Coherence

Building digital citizenship coherence across a large system has posed quite a challenge, but in order to develop a shared depth of understanding and purpose across our schools, LA Unified’s first step was updating and creating district policies to serve as the foundation for digital citizenship efforts.

Developing a Responsible Use Policy: Based on trends at the time and research such as June Ahn's work, LA Unified updated its Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to a Responsible Use Policy (RUP), which is a document that requires a parent/guardian signature at the start of each school year, making it a highly visible policy districtwide. Updating this policy resulted in strengthening the partnership among district educators and technical professionals as we worked collaboratively to iterate a version that would be easy to understand and could be used as an instructional resource in guiding students and staff in the responsible use of technology. To do this, we shared final drafts with teachers and students, engaged them in close read activities of the policies, and incorporated their feedback such as clarifying concepts, writing in first person, and using language that could be accessible by all.

LA Unified’s first step was updating and creating district policies to serve as the foundation for digital citizenship efforts.

Developing a Social Media Policy: As social media is a relatively new platform leveraged for instructional purposes, it is important to craft a policy to promote a shared understanding of its potential power and the implications of its use. LA Unified has two separate social media policies: one for employees and one for students. The social media policy for employees was first drafted in 2012 and updated in 2015 to include the definition of digital citizenship and to highlight its potential as a powerful learning tool. The social media policy for students was introduced in 2014 and founded on Common Sense Education resources alongside participatory culture research such as danah boyd's work on teenage social media behaviors.

The challenge faced when creating policies such as these is balancing the risk and opportunities afforded by social media. With digital citizenship as a foundational practice, however, policies such as these can be enacted in the classroom and across the district as teachers and students learn how to proactively engage online to develop a positive, purposeful digital footprint.

Designing Student-Led #DigCitLA Events

To cultivate digital citizenship across the district, LA Unified has actively celebrated Digital Citizenship Week (DCW) since 2014, showcasing a school’s efforts toward engaging in empowering, collaborative online practices and responsible technology use. When searching for a DCW Showcase School, we look to schools that are making progress in becoming a Digital Citizenship Certified School via Common Sense Education’s curriculum. By highlighting these schools, we help raise awareness on how integrating digital citizenship is critical to instruction and students’ college and career success.

LA Unified continues to curate instructional, grade-appropriate methods of supporting schools in celebrating digital citizenship.

Although our district team identifies and supports DCW Showcase events, the focus is always on creating a student-led experience that is authentic to their school community. The district team works collaboratively with school leadership to design a grade-appropriate, instructional, and exciting experience for students and staff. For example, for DCW 2016, we highlighted Griffin Avenue Elementary School, where we collaborated with the school's drama teacher to design a student-led skit for students and parents. In having supported DCW Showcase events across elementary, middle, and high school, LA Unified continues to curate instructional, grade-appropriate methods of supporting schools in celebrating digital citizenship. Here are a few ways we have helped schools celebrate in the past:

  • Support elementary school students in designing a skit on being safe online.
  • Design a Jeopardy-like game with digital citizenship topics as categories where students cheer for their peers to win as they put their dig cit knowledge to the test.
  • Convene a panel of high school students with a special guest moderator -- for example, a local talent or leader -- to talk about dig cit topics such as navigating relationships online, cyberbullying, and the importance of a digital footprint.

As digital citizenship continues to evolve, so does its prominence as a critical aspect of today’s instructional experience for students. LA Unified's superintendent, Dr. Michelle King, has recognized the importance of digital citizenship, identifying it as a key initiative in the district's 2016-2019 strategic plan. While classroom implementation is important, creating a comprehensive spectrum of supports is critical to preparing students to live, work, and thrive in today's world. To learn alongside us, we invite you to follow our department's Twitter account (@ITI_LAUSD) and visit our dedicated digital citizenship website to stay informed of LA Unified's efforts.