Colin's Sandbox

Commonsense Media Review

by on Mar.11, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

So far in this course we have talked about the importance of actively approaching digital citizenship within schools, using this as a piece of a larger character education push, encouraging students to create and maintain a positive digital portfolio.  Over the past couple of weeks we have focused on tools that are out there for educators to utilize within their classroom and at the district level as well.

I spent time this past week going through the materials that Commonsense Media provides to educators, parents, and learners of all ages.  The depth and breadth of the resource is astounding; not only do they provide digital citizenship curriculum units to educators, the site neatly organizes reviews on different types of media out there today, from movies, games, and apps, on down to music and books.  There’s even an area dedicated to “YouTube Sensations”.  With the amount of material that is made available it would be very difficult for one person to review the site in its entirety in a week and make recommendations as to how it should be used.  As the primary information source for this week’s post I relied heavily upon the opinions of the discussion group, since there’s such a variety of experiences there.  What follows here is an overview of the features that I find most interesting as well as recommendations for curriculum integration.

Overall I’ve been quite happy with the material that has come from this past week’s Commonsense Media exploration and I think that the materials would be useful in any school program or curriculum looking to focus on issues of digital citizenship.  The ability to speak across a wide variety of audiences, be it a student, teacher, or parent, makes this a first choice to turn to and a benchmark to compare other resources to.  To quote Michael Lancaster in this week’s discussion, “I too am surprised that a program that would be so beneficial to the students and so FREE, would not be more utilized by the district.”


The curriculum is downloadable in a variety of fashions, which is nice.  Barbra Donachy brought up the issue of poor bandwidth inherent in many of the villages around the state, but I think as long as a school has a system for mobile device management (Apple Configurator, plus a few others that I can think of) I think they can be in good shape here, especially if there’s advance notice (think: this summer).  The curriculum that I was also checking out, available under the “Educators” menu, was also available for a download via PDF.  This could easily be made available on a server hosted in-house.

As an example of the curriculum I browsed through the Kindergarten level iBook since I have two small children of pre-K age.  The materials do a good job of introducing the concept that some things are OK to share online, other things are not.  Activities are easy to jump into, and there’s even a catchy song at the beginning.  Going through the curriculum has reminded me of the importance, as a parent, of actively approaching these topics with both of my children, and this is likely where I will start.

Licensing of Materials

All materials that I saw were licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.  This permissive license makes it easy for educators to use, remix, and share to others as long as they give credit to the original author and provide it under a similar license.  This model of licensing is also mentioned in the curriculum materials as well, which I find refreshing and a great topic of discussion, especially in the light of our share / remix culture.

Media Reviews

And when I say “media” I mean many types.  I found their reviews of books, TV shows, current movies, great from a parent point of view and I will be back often in the future.  Here though I focus mainly on their coverage of games because as part of the #gamifi-ED project as part of the University of Alaska Southeast’s Leadership in Educational Technology this semester (shameless pitch: find us on Twitter at #gamifi-ED and #etlead) we’ve been taking a deep interest in using serious games within the classroom.  Part of my research during that class has been to look at other systems of ratings that are already out there, so Commonsense Media’s game reviews have already crossed my radar.

What I like about the game reviews is two-fold: first, they’re there at all.  Older people are starting to wake up to the revelation that students play a lot of games.  Parents like myself don’t necessarily have a lot of time to explore games on our own so having a spot to go to that allows for searching, ranking, etc., is helpful.

Answering Concerns About Supporters

One concern I had as I started going through the supporters list was whether or not there was some agenda behind the scenes.  Prior to this class when I heard the term “digital citizenship”, one image stood out front and center, a loud message concerning intellectual property drowning out other [more] important topics.   When I dig into the list of sponsors (, on just the business partners they list a very wide range of donors from all corners of the industry from content producers (Disney, Netflix), to ISP (COX, Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable), to mobile providers (Verizon, AT&T).  The list gets even more diverse when you dive into the foundation and education partnerships and beyond.An excellent example of bringing a wide variety of voices to the table.

Thoughts on Integration

There was some discussion this week recommending that getting the equivalent of Commonsense Media’s “digital passport” or “digital driver’s license” be a requirement for graduation but instead if I could wave a big magic wand (with powers of infinite budget +2), I’d like to see it as part of a project-based tech bootcamp held every year at the start of the year to work on students’ digital profile, digital media skill set, etc.  As far as allowing for greater Internet privileges or other, you could make this work depending on how sophisticated you want to make your network infrastructure, but I’m thinking tie it in with rewards and responsibilities in the real world, such as taking a 1:1 computer home, loaning a mouse, different colored cover, or the ability to take part in discussions concerning school Internet policies and topics of digital citizenship.  Back in the real world, with the omnipresent two headed hydra of limited budgets and student in-school time, one concept I particularly enjoyed was Mary Ellen Anderson’s suggestion to partner up with other professionals, such as a counselor, to facilitate the instruction.  Commonsense Media offers curriculum from pre-K all the way up through 12th grade, and there’s plenty to cover in each, so there’s every reason to spread out the curriculum across every age.

Going Forward

How does it stack up against another popular choice for digital citizenship materials, iSafe?  Being a proprietary solution behind a subscription service I was unable to review properly myself.  However Andrea Stineff compares the materials of iSafe to that offered by Commonsense Media and found it lacking, and when you keep in mind that much of what Commonsense Media offers is free both as in no charge, but with a very permissive license, and that provides a very compelling argument.  It would be wise to research more than one option however to check for coverage and to do this research as part of the tech planning process to ensure that everything stays current and therefore more engaging to both teachers and students.

As you move forward in any effort to embark on a digital citizenship unit in your organization, check first to see if Commonsense Media has already been there, and use their material to supplement your own needs.  Involve your students in the discussion as much as you can!

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