On the eastern side of Nebraska, Omaha is a bustling city with a metropolitan area nearing a population of 1 million. In a city with 11 school districts, Omaha Public Schools (OPS) serves the largest share of the area's students. In 2014, OPS made a bold move to focus on increasing equity and access to learning technology for its students, a majority of whom are classified as economically disadvantaged. When voters passed a $421 million bond issue -- the largest in Nebraska's history -- OPS set out to ensure that the district and its classrooms were ready for innovation. Among a range of large-scale construction and renovation projects, a portion of the funds targeted modernizing the technology infrastructure across the district, and with new devices comes the imperative for responsible device use, which OPS was ready to face head-on. Digital citizenship education is an important component of their technology equity initiative.
- No. of students: 53,552
- No. of schools and programs: 93
- Ethnicity of student body:
- African American: 24.5%
- Asian American: 6.6%
- Hispanic: 36.8%
- Multiracial: 5.6%
- Native American: 0.8%
- Pacific Islander: 0.1%
- White: 25.6%
- Economically disadvantaged students: 72%
- English-language learners: 18%
Align to initiatives
OPS believes that digital citizenship is an essential foundation by which to prepare students for post-secondary expectations and opportunities in college and the workforce. The administration and staff of OPS believe that to be positive, contributing members of today's society, children must learn to participate responsibly and respectfully in online communities; be not only consumers of online media but also creators; understand how to protect their privacy online; and use digital media in a balanced and healthy way.
For its parent community, OPS conducted a transition survey in 2018 as they brought in their current superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Logan. This survey included 10,650 stakeholders, including parents, community members, staff, and students. In this survey, parents in particular noted the lack of technology or equity of technology in schools. As the district continues to distribute technology equitably and thoughtfully, it will also continue to push digital citizenship as a prerequisite for devices.
Between 2016 and 2018, OPS introduced $8 million worth of devices into its secondary schools. In 2020, the district will begin the process of procuring new devices for its elementary schools. OPS has required that digital citizenship instruction, and Common Sense Recognition, be a prerequisite for student technology access and for schools receiving new devices.
OPS is planning for the future. They're developing a strategic plan that aligns with the Omaha Chamber of Commerce's 2040 plan and are working with futurist Rebecca Ryan, who's helping them to consider which competencies related to technology and digital citizenship will be needed in the next 10 to 20 years.
Implementing Digital Citizenship: Omaha Public Schools
In 2010, OPS started integrating Common Sense's Digital Citizenship Curriculum into the career tech education curriculum in high schools. In 2015, lessons had been integrated and aligned into content areas in elementary, middle, and high school. And by 2019, adjustments to the curriculum alignments had been made.
Presently, the district's teaching and learning consultants are overseeing the teaching of digital citizenship. This working group revised the existing scope and sequence integrated into the content-area curriculum. This plan is reviewed and updated regularly to stay aligned with new district curriculum adoptions and Nebraska Department of Education curriculum updates. OPS schools use different digital citizenship implementation models, including Library or Media Lab, Core Subject Embedded, and Elective Subject.
For grades K-6, digital citizenship is taught by library media specialists and integrated into their curricula. In grades 7-12, digital citizenship is taught by teachers in core subjects and elective classes. School sites decide which specific digital citizenship lessons are integrated into classes such as English language arts, career technology education, and human growth and development.
The district technology trainers oversee the OPS Technology Leaders (OTL) program (formerly known as the Microsoft Innovative Educators program). They train the OTLs to be digital citizenship experts so they can lead and facilitate the digital citizenship effort at their school site and oversee their school's completion of Common Sense Schools requirements.
OTLs are offered in-person training that includes learning about digital citizenship. They select a learning pathway on a preferred topic, such as "Creating a Culture of Digital Citizenship," "Common Sense Privacy Program: Online Privacy Practical Things Educators Can Do," "How to Plan Digital Citizenship Parent and Family Engagement," "Empowering the Next Generation of Digital Citizens," and "Discovering Great EdTech Tools with Common Sense Ratings & Reviews." OTLs can also provide trainings at their school sites to teachers, staff, students, and parents.
In addition to training from their school's OTL, teachers can access digital citizenship professional development through their departments and content areas on district curriculum days. Principals, counselors, and librarians have opportunities to learn about digital citizenship and updates during staff meetings. In addition, OPS provides a webinar series to all district educators outside of regular duty hours.
At the start of the school year, the district hosts a back-to-school kickoff event, which includes the use of a mobile learning unit (technology bus) where Common Sense resources are shared with parents and students. The mobile learning unit is a unique way the district provides the space, devices, Wi-Fi, and support for learning inside or alongside the bus.
Each school is given autonomy to determine how to support their parent community needs around digital citizenship. The district also provides training to parent room liaisons in each of their Title 1 buildings. For example, a school may host training sessions on digital citizenship and parent engagement to address parental concerns around apps and cellphone use, using Common Sense's Family Engagement Resources. OTLs work with the parent liaison at their site to get trained and to organize parent chats or coffees.
One challenge OPS is working on is the equitable delivery of parent engagement across the district. Some schools lack strong PTAs or Title 1 parent room liaisons, and content delivery can also vary among sites.
Teaching Digital Citizenship: Be a Super Digital Citizen
Define and measure impact
OPS considers a successful integration plan to be one where each stakeholder knows their role in supporting the plan and measures impact based on the effectiveness of executing their role. District leaders support schools with curriculum resources and standards mapping. Principals look holistically at their schools to determine the best way to make digital citizenship a core part of their culture, including utilizing their school improvement plans. Counselors integrate digital citizenship dispositions when working with students. The MTSS-B (multi-tiered systems of supports for behavior) develops a common language and expectations to use with students regarding digital citizenship and digital balance and well-being.
OPS also utilizes the BrightBytes Technology & Learning survey to gather data and analyze the effectiveness of their technology program for the past four years. Part of that survey includes a section on digital citizenship, which has helped inform the evolution of the program. BrightBytes measures four domains: classroom, access, skills, and environment. Within the classroom domain, digital citizenship is measured by both teachers and students. In 2015, this domain scored 950 points, and in 2017, it grew by 10 points. However, after the district obtained their Common Sense recognition in 2017, this domain grew 30 points the following year.
Starting in 2016, OPS focused on a whole-community approach to digital citizenship, taking steps toward Common Sense School and District recognition. In 2016-17, OPS first earned Common Sense District recognition and has sustained that status ever since, training educators, teaching students, and engaging families.
The district celebrates Common Sense Schools by providing them with a banner, and Common Sense Educators receive a special OPS Common Sense badge to attach to their email signatures and add to their résumés.
Accomplishments are also regularly shared on social media, in district publications, and on OPS's district website, which includes an interactive map that highlights schools and educators.
Reflect on progress
One of the challenges OPS continues to improve upon is providing professional development for teachers implementing digital citizenship.