Colin's Sandbox

Tools for teaching digital citizenship

by on Mar.12, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

Due to some professional (ASTE) and personal (hockey tournament, course-load, family) life busy-ness I am having to go back in time a couple weeks and revisit the question about how to incorporate tools that concern themselves with digital citizenship into schools.

Since I do not have a classroom of my own, I approach this topic primarily in the shoes of a father of two preschoolers as well as a graduate student involved with more than a few learning communities.  With the hindsight that I’ve gained after critically reviewing Commonsense Media’s curriculum, reviews, and educator and parent resources, and in some very relevant discussions I was a part of at ASTE I believe that so much of what we do as learners online has a social component.  It’s possible to lead a project that addresses digital citizenship and stresses the importance of digital portfolios as a beginning to your personal learning network.

Sharing / Remixing / Tutoring: Online Learning Communities

A recurring theme in my conversations with educators and parents is that the most compelling activities involve some social component.  A few examples: Scratch, a programming environment designed for graphics manipulation, is full-featured enough that students can effectively create games, all in an online web browser.  The powerful piece is the ability to share the game with others out there, not just the finished game, but the source code as well.  The commenting feature is a great way to exchange feedback and example code with others.  This is similar to the Lego Mindstorms community, based around making and programming robots with the popular Lego NXT controllers.

Then in another league entirely there’s the whole culture of Minecraft gamers out there who communicate with each other through YouTube videos.  A quick search in Google Video search pulled up almost 200 million results for “Minecraft Tutorial”.  200 million results!  An example, this one with over 4 million views alone:


The way that many of these environments and games are set up allow for cross country / cross cultural interaction (think an all-Alaska Minecraft server or similar). There’s an incredible opportunity here to work with a wide age-range of and abilities of students here, using Minecraft or similar game as a research hook into a digital culture that has many facets.  Communication forms can look live game feeds on Twitch, group communication through a voice conferencing tool like TeamSpeak, teaching others how to construct things via tutorial videos on YouTube (200 million results!), generate games for research, inviting others to play via your own virtual private server in the cloud through a service such as  All of these relate directly to topics of digital citizenship and can be a source of discussion with students and parents alike.  To model topics of civics, the class can establish a democratic process to decide, publish, and modify the rules and responsibilities of virtual environments like these.  This would mark a good point to use Bailey and Ribble’s “Ethical Direction Compass” to help guide the process.

Assessing Work in These Areas in a Larger Context

Assessing project-based work therefore is attainable in a few different ways: first, via a project-by-project rubric, or achievement over a system of class-long milestones (think of this as marking steps off of a learning  pathway).  In the Understanding by Design model (Wiggins, McTighe), the assessment is an integral piece to the puzzle.  A savvy school can take one of the existing curriculums out there already, for example, the Commonsense Media curriculum, and use that as a framework to identify milestones along the path of digital literacy and citizenship.  Students could use examples surrounding their project work to demonstrate achievement in those areas, and teachers could point students to the curriculum along the way to introduce concepts, and to provide one of several alternate activities.

For example, Unit 3, lesson 1 of Commonsense Media’s 9-12th grade “Digital Literacy & Citizenship” curriculum teaches about “Rights, Remixes, and Respect”.  What better way than to incorporate this as part of a larger lesson within a Scratch or Lego Mindstorms project utilizing others’ existing work on the Internet already and examining the licenses that the work is shared under?  As a follow on presentation option, allow students to create a movie for sharing on YouTube and use that as an opportunity to discuss the licenses for audio samples, imagery, etc. that they may want to use.

What’s the Takeaway?

The takeaway here is that I think teachers will have created a much more engaging experience for their students if they guide their students as part of an online learning community and assess their students’ work against a set of content and skills expectations on one hand while assessing their engagement with the community against a defined and visible set of goals for that term of the course on the other.  There’s ample room in an open, democratic learning environment, to model and practice good digital literacy and citizenship skills and this situates the learnings in real life contexts.

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