Kids Have to Be The Change

June 19, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Students

Education experts and innovators joined the National Writing Project’s Blog Talk Radio host Paul Oh in a recent interview to discuss education and technology. Among the guests were our very own education program manager Merve Lapus, and technology integration specialist at California’s Elk Grove Unified School District Gail Desler.

Desler writes for the National Writing Project’s Digital Is blog and works with the Area 3 Writing project, a professional development network for California teachers. Last year, she and her colleague Natalie Bernasconi, who joined her on the Blog Talk Radio show, began co-curating the Digital ID wiki to host resources and best practices for teaching digital citizenship. The site, however, “has evolved into a platform and global microphone for student-created content,” explained Desler in an article for Digital Is.

One of their more empowering discoveries, which she addressed on the show, was #UnfollowBullying, a student-led campaign created by high school teens from Desler’s school district. “Our superintendent has a student advisory committee,” said Desler, “and, at the end of the school year last year, the students said, ‘Okay, we need to do something about cyberbullying. It’s disruptive within the school day and it’s disruptive beyond the school day.’”

What started out as students using Twitter to stand up against bullying soon became more than a hashtag movement, taking hold of classrooms and schools through events like wall signings, T-shirt signings, newscasts, and even a “call to action” across the district and beyond. #UnfollowBullying won the 2012 Edublog Award for “Best Twitter Hashtag,” and continues to gain momentum with youth online.

Desler talked with Oh about what she learned from the movement. “We realized the most important model [for teaching digital literacy] is—and we saw this during the #UnfollowBullying campaign—that it’s students teaching students that makes a difference. Although we can teach them about privacy and intellectual property—that cyberbullying awareness and response piece—we can’t really do that one. The kids have to be the change, and they recognize that,” she said.

As the district’s technology integration specialist, Desler explained that their goal was to weave digital citizenship curricula into teachers’ everyday lessons. “As a district we said we need to be teaching students about the ethical uses of the internet and social media,” she said. “We’ve been at this a long time—eight years—back before there even was the Common Sense Media curriculum, but when that came out that was just like a gift to have such outstanding dynamic lessons to send out to the teachers with everything ready to go.”

Executive Director of the California Writing Project Jayne Marlink joined Desler on the show, and they discussed the success of California’s first Digital Citizenship Month, which took place in May. A different kind of campaign centered on some of the same themes as #UnfollowBullying, Digital Citizenship Month engaged students, teachers, and parents in lessons on how to be smart, safe, and successful online. The event incorporated involvement from schools and various community groups and grew out of research from Common Sense Media and the California Writing Project.

“We started out about a year ago [and] decided to take on sponsorship for California's Digital Learning Day, with the Alliance for Excellent Education, their first ever national Digital Learning Day,” said Marlink. “And even though that was terrific, and we had a great time, and there were wonderful activities and showcases and open houses across the state, one day was not enough.”

Marlink, Lapus, Desler, and other educators across the state helped make Digital Citizenship Month a success, and they continue to enrich students’ lives with relevant online safety curricula. As the state’s Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said, “Online space is the schoolyard of the 21st century,” and it’s up to teachers, experts, and advocates to ensure that students are prepared.