The Case for Digital Citizenship in Schools

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.Image via WikipediaThe Dealia’s swimsuit catalog came in the mail for my teenage daughter and I handed it to my youngest son and asked him to take it to her. He padded in the den and I heard him say,

“Here’s your bathing suit catalog, sis. Pick something that won’t scar me for life!”

Scarred for life? lol. Hmmmm. Not a joke if I think about it.

Scarred for Life.
As I listened to my book on iPod and cleaned the kitchen, I started thinking that that is what is happening to many of today’s teens.

We have driver’s education because we want to protect kids from themselves. A car is a powerful machine and can kill.

We have sex education because we want to protect children as well. Sex is a very intimate thing that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sex can also kill if one contracts various STD’s.

Cell phones and the Internet are powerful vehicles. Yet parents give kids cell phones like they are the latest gadget, ignoring what can happen if a child makes a childish mistake. They can be scarred for life.

Driver’s education cannot stop accidents among teenagers – but well done – it can reduce them.

Sex education cannot stop sex among teenagers but it can prevent STD’s and have students take it more seriously.

Digital citizenship education cannot STOP the headlines of people who do scarring things through improper use of their technology but I believe it can reduce them.

Margarite’s Mistake
In the Saturday New York Times Article “A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives” ( a story we’ll be talking about in Digiteen this week), Margarite is an eighth grader who posed nude in her mirror and sent the picture of herself to a popular athlete, Isaiah.

Isaiah forwarded this to a former friend of Margarite’s who then forwarded it to every contact in her cell phone with the message:

“Ho Alert! If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.”

Pressed Send.

The video went viral and through four middle schools. When parents started calling in to complain, the Middle school principal at one school launched the investigation that led to the confiscation of student cell phones and three students being charged with dissemination of child pornography (a class C felony.)

The county prosecutor, Mr. Peters said, “The idea of forwarding that picture was bad enough,” he said, “But the text elevated it to something far more serious. It was mean-girl drama, an all-out attempt to destroy someone without thinking about the implications.”

As other kids left school to go home at the end fo the day, Isiah and Margarite’s former friend were led off in handcuffs.

Scarred for life.

The article goes on to say that sexting (between adults) is protected first amendment speech and that many magazines are giving tips on “how to look good” in sexting photos. However, as many as 24 % of 14-17 year olders have been involved in “some type of naked sexting.” (AP & MTV Poll – PDF)

Forwarding such photos can land you in jail.

Don’t Freak Out, Fan Out
I think that banning cell phones and removing them from schools is NOT the right answer. You might as well dam the Mississippi in a few weeks during flood season. See if that will hold!

It would be like banning cars because too many kids die in traffic accidents. Not realistic. We have to co-exist with cars because they are part of our society and the way we get around.

Banning cell phones is not realistic. We must co-exist with cell phones because they are part of our society and the way we communicate.

When someone lost an earring in the grass the other day – we all took a small space and fanned out to find the earring and eventually did.

Likewise, we should all take the “plot of ground” assigned to us. Our classroom. Our Home. Our school. Our community.

We can’t do it all but we can do something.

Don’t Lecture, Learn.

This should be treated a lot like driver’s education which does have a bit of classroom work but a lot of time IN a car navigating the spaces. If a kid is going to have a problem with a left turn or parallel parking you want them to have it under supervision so it is not scarring for life.

The final example from Facebook Friending 101 for Schools (about the student I named “Zipper) that I posted on Friday is from one of our Flat Classroom projects. (I did change the names.) The teachable moment that I discussed in that case study transformed our our kids and they all went in and changed their privacy settings.

Digital Citizenship in Situ
That is why I think effective digital citizenship education is done WHILE students are using educational networks (social networks for education) and cell phones. In fact, that is why we founded Digiteen and spun it off as a nonprofit – because we felt like the kids who came in to Flat Classroom weren’t ready because they were clueless about managing their personal identity in safe, wise ways!

Kids DON’T get it, but neither do adults. We are learning as we go.

In fact, I received a SCATHING commenter accusing me of not knowing Facebook privacy settings because she says she has set lists to:

“I friend students. I also have a specific list just for them. This list is restricted so that they can’t see:
– any of my default wall posts (unless I specifically select my “students” list, but even then when I post to that one, I ONLY post to students, so that my other friends can’t see it)
– anything anyone posts on my wall
– any of my photo albums except for the one of my profile pics
– anyone on my friends list (you can even restrict that, it’s just on the privacy screen under “Connecting on Facebook” rather than “Sharing on Facebook”)
– any pages or anything else that I “like””

Now, I’ve got it on my personal PD list this week to check this out and learn if this is indeed the case. Furthermore, I want to test it and see if it actually works that way. I value commenters that let me know that there is more to be told.  

(Of course this commenter didn’t do it in a very nice way and that, I feel was poor citizenship, but onwards and upwards – if we cannot learn from those who are unkind to us, then we are letting our emotions restrict our learning potential – aren’t we? So, my friends, don’t let your emotions on this topic cause you to make a decision not to learn either.)

If I wasn’t on Facebook and wasn’t blogging – how would I know? It is a MISTAKE to ignore Facebook. You should all also know how to send and receive text messages.

Case Study: Who is Mij Cosby?
I’ve changed this name because we don’t really know if this is a real person or not. However, last week as my class and I were brainstorming our action project for Digiteen, a student said – we need to talk about friending because “WHO IS MIJ COSBY?”

I asked – WHAT?

He said –

“There is this girl over in an adjacent county who has no friends at her own school but who has asked to FRIEND every student at Westwood. I won’t friend Mij because I don’t know who it is.”

We talked for some time and everyone in the class but one person (who said he needed a lot of friends) unfriended Mij because they realized that NO ONE knew who it was.

But I left the question on the board and didn’t think another thing about it. My tenth graders came in and saw the board and several shouted out

“WHO is Mij Cosby? I mean really, Mrs. Vicki, who is it?”

They too had been friended – such was the whole day!! We don’t know who this is, but what we found out happened is that this person was able to get about 5 kids to friend at our school and then everyone started friending Mij. In 2-3 days at least 50+ kids (that I counted) had friended Mij and NO ONE knew the person!

They admitted that they look to see how many mutual friends they have and then decide if they should friend or not.

Almost all of the students unfriended Mij because we cannot find ONE student in the whole school who knows her. NOT ONE. We don’t even know if there is a family in that county of 2800 people with that last name! We think Mij is a fake.

And yet, several kids didn’t want to unfriend. (“But I want to have a lot of friends, Mrs. Vicki.”) And many didn’t want to make their pages Friends only — some have it set to public. (“I want people to know who I am.”)

This live in-situ case study that happened because we were talking about what to DO about digital citizenship caused around 90+% of my students to change their behavior – at least for now. That did more to help them understand friending than anything else. Facebook is unblocked at school (at least for now) so they took action RIGHT THEN.

Get them talking and acting and learning and doing!


Time to Take Action

  • Does your school have to end up on the cover of the New York Times for you to take seriously the need for digital citizenship education?
  • Do you know that problems WILL happen and they will be WORSE if you ignore this issue?
  • Do you think lecture from a fear-based uneducated un-social-media-wise adult is actually going to change anything? Do you want a person without a driver’s license who doesn’t own a car teaching drivers ed? Get someone who uses this stuff and can relate to kids to lead them in educated discussions – or join something like Digiteen.
  • Do you think you have to find a place for this before you do it? We do what is important.
  • Do you think educating parents on proactive ways to help will do more than scaring them into taking away cell phones? Cell phones are the identity of many kids. Face it.
  • The best defense is a good offense. Are you going to be proactive or reactive? Which will paint you as more of a leader? Be a visionary, that is your job.
  • What are you doing? Share.

Remember your noble calling. Handle this situation with nobility and wisdom and resist the desire to freak out and create fear.

And also remember this, I’m bringing attention to social media in schools because it is IMPORTANT. I will continue to talk about this and share what I know – but if I don’t know something (and there is tons I don’t know) please feel free to shoot me an email at vicki at coolcatteacher dot com and teach me something. 😉

You are great readers and sharers. Thank you.

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26 thoughts on “The Case for Digital Citizenship in Schools

  1. Fantastic post, bringing digital citizenship concept down to HOW it affects each of us in our own lives, as teachers, parents, students – just as people in this world. We hear from teachers regularly that they struggle with how to teach these skills. Bravo for making it concrete why we need to care.

  2. I have been preaching this and preaching this to my pre-service teachers. The concept of digital citizenship needs to be pervasive throughout the schools. It has to start with some of the teachers who are not good digital citizens themselves. Creating rediculous firewalls that keep everyone and thing out are not the answer, because we are not teaching our students the skills to make good decisions. I think your example about the mysterious friend they all “friended” is excellent. I am going to assign this blog post as required reading, hope you don’t mind!

  3. Of course it is ok!! My students and I are still hotly debating this one!!

    Vicki Davis
    Cool Cat Teacher Blog

    Building the bridges of today that the society of tomorrow will walk across.

    Sent from my iPod touch

  4. If you are a teacher and you are responsible for educating and learning alongside of adolescents, you should absolutely have a FaceBook account. Many schools do discourage it and of course, rightfully, discourage “friending” students. But the bottom line is this ~ we can’t teach them if we can’t reach them. The world is changing fast and if you want to understand how your students operate, you’ve got to learn the tools yourself. No one can tell you, it has to be experienced, first-hand.

    I reckon the reference to building a dam in the Mississippi during flood season is a 100% accurate analogy. Although, as things continue to advance, the dams (or the school filtration systems) are soon going to give way. Students are bored & disengaged often because we are not communicating with them at their level. Mind you, I said “at” and not “on” their level. I am not suggesting we compromise our professional but there are ways to do it. Here is the one thing I did different today to engage my students in a digitally responsible manner: http://coalcrackerclassroom.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/my-own-social-media-experiment/.

  5. Absolutely! I’ll give you a personal example too, albeit a flipped version. Part of being a responsible Digital Citizen as a teacher is being in the know. And, no, I do not mean creeping around our students’ FaceBook pages. As educators, we have to be using the technology in order to protect ourselves, as well. In today litigious society, it is difficult to protect ourselves from liabilities we don’t think of too often.

    Case in point – Just several weeks ago, on another bleak snow day in northeast Pennsylvania, a student decided to create a FaceBook account in my name, using a legitimate photo of me. The person controlling this account continued on throughout the day to friend NUMEROUS students at our school, in my name (for the record, I do not EVER friend an active student). As people accepted the friend requests, my alter “Suzie Nestico” began leaving some pretty lewd and crude messages on others’ FaceBook walls. I am fortunate to live in a small community with some great students and families. Within two hours (although I would have found it on my own eventually because I GET FaceBook), I received a call at home from a parent informing me that her child received a friend request from me earlier that day but said student reported to parent that something seemed “not quite right” about the profile. The family provided the link to that profile. Thanks to all of my work with you, Vicki, and Julie Lindsay throughout Flat Classroom and Digiteen projects, I took immediate action.

    I screenshot every page, photo posted, and every comment on others’ pages. I reported it to FaceBook immediately before any potential damage worsened. I notified administration to make them aware and the situation was dealt with in timely manner before it caused me any professional liability or headache. I chose not to demand punishment for the offender – this was a learning opportunity for the student. The act wasn’t malicious and there is no pre-existing adversarial relationship. It was simply an attempt to gain attention and try and be funny on the part of the student. If nothing else, I try and remember we are working with kids, after all. I’m not in this business to punish. I just want my students to learn what is right and what is wrong in their online behaviors.

  6. Vicki, sorry for over-taking the comment section on your blog… should have just written my own posts and sent you the links. At any rate, you can do this on FaceBook. I do, although it doesn’t much matter because I am conscientious about anything I put out there, regardless.

    Do you have your friends organized into ‘lists’? I am guessing you can not see this feature if you do not have lists. For example, I have lists titled Dallas TX friends, Sorority Sisters, Former Students, etc.

    If I am posting a status update, I can click the lock to the lower right of the status box.

    Then, I can choose “customize” and then choose “Hide From” and start typing in the name of the list from which you want to hide whatever it is you are posting. Now, you have to go through all of your friends and create the lists. This is, in no way, foolproof, but there is a way to be somewhat restrictive.

    ps ~ I love learning and teaching this way! Hope all is well in Georgia!

  7. I used it in my class yesterday as we again hit on the case study in this article and re-hashed it. None of us agree! 😉 And yet, the discussing of the case, I think has made us all better.

  8. Yes, Suzie – this is a tough one! You can’t teach if you can’t reach and this is the tough one. I wish there were an easy answer! I’m reading your amazing replies here and I want you to know two things:

    1) There is no such thing as oversharing in the comments here! You are wise and welcome and are just a great writer.
    2) When I would write amazing comments like you just have here, I would often cross post to my own blog – I think you should put them together – cross post them and ping me so I can feature it in the daily spotlight so these can gain the wider readership that I think they deserve!

    You rock, my friend!

  9. This is how to handle issues! PLEASE PLEASE cross post on your blog – if you don’t, I’d like permission to. You know I only offer guest posts on my blog about twice a year – this would make a good one if you want to write it up – I’d be happy to feature it as it relates to the conversations we’re having!

  10. I do have lists but if I’m on my itouch – they don’t show, so I have to remember to go back and re-organize friends and — I haven’t. I just don’t friend my kids and students but the other day I found that somehow early on I had friended a few kids and so now I’m going to talk to each of them or test the listing feature to see how that works and IF it works. If not, I need to defriend.

  11. So here is my question. This is a TWO WAY hide – where we want to hide our friends from our students and our students from the rest of our friends. I need to go in and see – because this looks like you are hiding your students from your friends – which is important. But the incident we had two weeks a go was where the students could see someone’s friend who had written and posted terrible photos and updates. Just wondering and I plan to write the update.

  12. Terrific post, Vicki. I had also read that NYT article and shared with with the administrators at my school and have done the same with your blog. It’s so ironic, our country is so obsessed with test scores at the moment but when I read posts like this I ask, where the hue and cry (at the national political level) over teaching digital citizenship?

  13. That is the catch. I can not figure out the two-way. I only know how to control what I share, but not what others may share on MY wall, which any “friends” can see. Hence, when in doubt, monitor, monitor, monitor but again, this is WHY we do not/should not “friend” our own students.

    Wonder if we could make the suggestion to FaceBook to add an additional Privacy setting wherein it would give users the ability to “approve” any content (posts, pics, videos) posted to our wall by others BEFORE they appear on our wall? I know you can do this before someone tags a photo or video of you, but not sure about the wall posts, themselves. Of course, you could set the existing privacy settings to “only me” for wall pasts, but then no one would see anything and it takes away the ‘social’ purpose. I, too, need to go back in and look.

  14. I have several things in draft form… getting to it. Will have my “Digital Citizenship Inverted” posted tonight. Of course you have permission.

    In the future, always assume you have permission. You don’t need to ask. Understand this ~ I owe you greatly in ways I will never be able to repay you. I am a better teacher because of you. You helped me remember why I got into teaching. And, you gave me a chance when I knew NOTHING about a wiki, a blog, or a tweet. I wanted to start a blog last year when we retuned back to the states from Mumbai. It’s taken me a year to finally get to it, but I did. Still working on fully finishing all of my FCP Cert. modules, too. Why does it seem the busier we get, the more work we get done?

    As always, thanks for your kind, motivating, and encouraging words!

  15. Exactly! You are so right! We seem to only get upset when the dramatic happens but don’t realize that many kids in some ways are giving up their privacy and future potential bit by bit by sharing too much information.

  16. Yes, we need to do this. THAT IS THE CATCH! I think that the commenter who replied so vehemently didn’t really GET the risk. I’ve had several people here very angry because they believe they have the “right” to friend the kids. I have to agree to disagree with them. We need separate accounts – that is the only way I see it right now.

  17. Suzie. You and I are part of the mutual appreciate society! You have given me far more than I think I’ve given you. Thank you for being my friend and for keeping the nobility even when you are going through downsizing and tough circumstances in your public school district. When public school teachers say “I can’t stay positive” I talk about you and the other amazing teachers I’m close to on FCP. Thanks again and look for more on this.

  18. Are you using the Facebook app on your itouch? If so, while you are in the Newsfeed screen look for a ‘button’ in the upper right corner that probably says Live Feed. If you press that, you will get a scroll bar that will give you choices like Live Feed, Status Updates, Pages, Photos, etc. You should also see your list names here. This is how you filter to see your lists. Choose what you want to see, then press done in the upper right corner. Also, when you choose to update your status you should see the little padlock in the corner where you can choose who to share with just like you see when you’re using Facebook in a browser. Hope this helps you a bit! 🙂

  19. I can see lists and do this for sharing. I cannot, however, figure out how to friend someone and put them on a list from the app. It is not showing as an option and I’ve had lists since the week they came out.

  20. You know, just when I think I am beginning to even embark on the climb up to your level of digital literacy, and I can see the landing in between the sets of stairs, BAM! I’m back on the landing below! 🙂

    “Ping me?” OK, just getting used to the look & feel of the back end of my wordpress blog and struggling a bit. Heard of pinging and trackbacks before, but never had cause to investigate. So, I just searched your other posts, registered my blog with Technorati, created a Ping-o-Matic account, read a bunch, but for whatever reason, still can’t quite get my head around it in a simplistic manner. Teach me? Going to surf through your Diigo bookmarks now.

  21. Technorati is not as important as it used bo be – but it is still good to have your blog registered there. Pinging the search engines means to tell them you’re there and I’ve used ping-o-matic for a while and may look at it again – not sure it is as important as it used to be.

    “ping me” also means – to send me a note – a nudge, a poke- I’ll have to look back at the context I used it.

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