San Francisco Gets Serious about Digital Citizenship Education

January 27, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense News, Digital Citizenship, In the Classroom

January 18th marked a different kind of “holiday” for middle and high school students in San Francisco, one that emphasized the importance of digital literacy education. In a partnership with Common Sense Media and the District Attorney’s office, the San Francisco Unified School District practiced Digital Media Safety Instruction Day.

“Digital Media Safety Instruction Day is important to ensure that our students are ready and able to think critically and interact responsibly with technology,” said associate superintendent for Student Family & Community Support Kevin Truitt.

For the first time, all 55,000 K-12 students within the district were given a 45-minute lesson from our Digital Literacy and Citizenship classroom curriculum, and learned the basics of how to stay safe online.

“56 percent of our young people are reporting that they are being victims of cyber bullying,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon told CBSnews, stressing the increasing need to teach digital citizenship at younger ages.

Ideally, educators and school officials should not have to moderate social media cyberbullying; however, it has become part of the job description for many, and on some occasions local police departments have become a part of the education process.

The Rainy River District in Fort Frances, Ontario is just one example of a community moving toward this model. As Heather Chaplin previously reported, “The teachers there were used to working with police officers on issues like the importance of wearing a helmet while riding a bike, or substance abuse prevention. But a needs assessment survey […] showed that online safety and bullying was now the community’s primary safety concern.”

As Chaplin pointed out, it is as if digital citizenship education has become the “bike safety for the modern age.” “It’s like we’ve been giving kids licenses to drive care before teaching them how to drive,” said community service coordinator for the Ontario Provincial Police Anne McCoy. “Today’s kids have access to screens as soon as they’re born. We have to start teaching kids responsible, ethical behavior and the consequences of bad behavior. We need to teach digital citizenship.”

School officials in Ontario, San Francisco, and elsewhere have begun realizing that digital literacy is not just a lesson additive, but a necessary component to a well-rounded curriculum.

"It's not, don't do this don't do that," said Merve Lapus, Common Sense Media’s education program manager who helped organize the event in San Francisco. "It's, here are some great opportunities, here are some potential perils, how do you think critically about what you're going to do when you use media and technology."

Hopefully events like the San Francisco Digital Media Safety Instruction Day will become a routine part of the school year in schools worldwide.

District Attorney Gascon expressed just how important the day was for the surrounding schools. “Today's technology creates both opportunities and real risks for young people,” Gascon said. “This dedicated day for learning about digital media safety is an important step in preparing our students to safely navigate the challenges that exist in the digital world.”