What should be done about digital citizenship?

My post about the need for more literacy instruction has created a virtual firestorm of response.

Why is digital citizenship an issue?

A November 2006 Pew study found that:

Eighty seven per cent (87%) of online users have at one time used the internet to carry out research on a scientific topic or concept and 40 million adults use the internet as their primary source of news and information about science.

Not the library, but the Internet.

Let's look at our students. In the most recent PEW study available (August 2005), it was determined that:

“Eighty seven per cent (87%) of all youth between the ages of 12 and 17 use the internet. “

These numbers show us that the effective literacy skills but particularly digital literacy holds the very future of society in its grip. The ability to form one's opinion and validate sources is the key.

If students take the “first thing they come to” to determine their opinion, then we are sorely at the mercy of Google's algorithms and the determination of webmasters who desire to be heard. Understanding how to search, how to validate sources, and even how to use deep web resources is an essential part of being literate.

So who decides what to do?

In the Pew Research study, “A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users“– you'll find that they found that about 31% of American Adults are “Elite Tech Users.”

That is me.

If you're reading this post, it is probably you.

We are outnumbered.

We are not teaching “mini-me's,” we are teaching students. I would approximate a consistent number with what Pew finds, that at least a full 2/3rds come to me sorely lacking in these abilities.

Although my goal is to teach students processes and frameworks that will turn them into what I call “intuitive learners,” most are not there when they come to me.

Our kids need to understand these things!

Many agree that literacy is important. (These are, except where noted, taken from the comments from my post: Digital Literacy Comes Home.)

Stephen Downes says, “Indeed, a person who reads a website and concludes that it's true, no matter what it says, is dangerously illiterate.”

Tom Hoffman says, Check the source's references. Confirm information by looking at multiple sources. Read carefully.”

David Warlick says, “Instead of starting with a web page, displayed on the whiteboard, they [teachers] should start with Google, demonstrate how they found the page, the considerations and decisions they applied to select that page, and include in the presentation, the evidence that what's being presented is valuable…When we model authority, we shouldn't be surprised when students look for authority in every piece of information.”

Kristin Hokanson says, “At the upper level, kids need to be taught HOW to access credible sources…via data bases, advanced google searches and other good search strategies. If we don't, they will continue to go to the first sources available. “

Gary Stager (from his comments over at David Warlick's blog) says, Of course everyone should use multiple sources. The reason this is such a problem online is that it has rarely been done offline.”

Megan Golding says I certainly feel like the majority of my students (4th through 12th grades) cannot find good information by searching Google. That's why I'm changing the way I teach “web research”.”

NJTech Teacher, says “It is VERY hard to teach children these skills. ..In my opinion, the kids get an assignment like this and they just want the assignment over! So, they grab what comes up first and run with it, no analysis involved (my son included).”

Anonymous says, “This one of those things that I was shocked to see but after processing it I realized how true and common it is. ..I think we do a good job of stressing accurate sources when it comes to books, but it is different online, which is where most of the research our students are doing comes from. We need to make sure as educators we are holding our students and ourselves more accountable. “

Sharon says: “I have been asking students to evaluate the web sites they find for years, using a variety of evaluation instruments and criteria. They didn't and still don't like to do it!”

Profv says “First, many [students] have not developed the ability to “skim” for information… Secondly, students have trouble connecting information from multiple sources even up through high school.”

Through the controversy over my post, I still see an overall consensus that these things are important.

I want to keep the focus on digital citizenship because that is why I wrote the post.

Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship encompasses several things to me. Below is the matrix I recently developed in conjunction with the work I'm doing at my school.

Digital citizenship is more than literacy, it is living safely, civilly, and effectively in our increasingly digital world.

The focus here is that students are not where they need to be with the skills encompassed in digital citizenship. It is a process and cannot just be taught by one teacher one time and expect retention.

It must permeate all subjects in all grade levels just like reading, for increasingly it is reading.

Students are missing out

Too many teachers talk about how students are coming to them vastly uneducated about researching, validating sources, and using multiple sources of information.

Students are believing everything they read. Where is the skepticism? The investigation? The desire to double check things? It should be instilled as a part of what they learn, but specifically relating to Internet sources, thus the word digital.

Most students think if it is the library that the librarian has thoroughly sanitized everything in there. (Which too, as Tom Hoffman pointed out, is flawed thinking.)

When there is a gap in student knowledge what should happen?

Here is my rough sketch of our process here at Westwood when we identify a knowledge gap. (And if you're doing you're job, you'll always be finding these.)

But no school is ideal! (Not even ours. ) After five years in the classroom and ten years working as a consultant and trainer for teachers, I would theorize that it most curricular review is more like the following:

Let's look at a few of these, that I feel were exhibited by some of the comments on my last post — I am pulling from those comments.

It is not necessary to teach
Stephen Downes says:

“I don't think that anyone, anywhere, is writing about casting kids – or adults, for that matter – adrift in a sea of information with no anchor or support. A kid can be ‘not taught' and yet still not be left to ‘figure out' thinks on their own.”

Yes, our ultimate aim is students who “don't need us” as Stephen says later in his post. However, as Kristin Hokanson says in her blog,

“Stephen Downes comment that kids can be “‘not taught' and yet still not be left to ‘figure out' things on their own.” and with this disagree. We spend a ton of time emphasizing “healthy schools”–monitoring snacks that are served in the cafeteria, encouraging parents to discuss healthy alternatives for birthday treats, creating opportunities for students to participate in active games during recess. It is important to model these healthy choices. I went on to express that I would NEVER leave my kids in a kitchen full of all the food they can eat, with a big screen tv, nintendo, and a shelf of books and expect them to figure out that they will feel best if they eat healthy and read books…my kids would never figure out on their own that chicken with broccoli and book reading is better for them than video games, the Disney Channel washed down with Cheetos and soda with out some modeling and instruction early on. Kids need to be taught, teachers need to model so that kids can apply those skills when relevant. It is true with literacy as well.”

Teachers are part of the equation. But as most of us agree, it is no longer the model of the “sage on the stage” but rather the “guide on the side.” The teacher is not the center, however, these skills must be intentionally covered and indeed modeled by every teacher, as David Warlick says:

“We have to practice what we preach, and we have to practice it out loud!

At the same time that we continue to use our textbooks (or what ever they evolve into), reference works, databases, and our own expertise, we should also bring in, at every opportunity, content and resources that we have found, evaluated, processed, and prepared for teaching and learning, and that we should include conversations about how we found it, evaluated, and processed it. If the are seeing us, every day, asking the questions that are core to being literate today, then perhaps they will not only develop the skills of critical evaluation, but also the habits.”

Such things as verifying sources and basic literacy skills must intentionally be included in our curriculum at all levels. It should be modeled as part of what we teach as teachers and as parents. It should be encouraged in our social networks as it is in the Youth Voices network and in the sounding board that was part of the Horizon Project. It must become enmeshed in every part of education.

Denial that there is a gap
Tom Hoffman said in his comments:

“I don't see what makes this “digital literacy.” Aside from a basic understanding of how to follow a hyperlink, the research skills I was taught 25 years are sufficient for assessing the quality of this source. Check the source's references. Confirm information by looking at multiple sources. Read carefully. What's the first thing my now retired mother covered in the first class she taught at Juniata Valley High School: evaluating sources.”

Yes, it was taught 25 years a go. It is not taught now like it needs to be.

Tom programs, however, how many students still learn programming as they did 25 years a go — that would be preposterous! And if you just use the literacy model from 25 years a go, you are again falling short! We must push ahead and improve.

The Big 6 are great and some sort of excellent framework like this needs to be taught everywhere! I believe there is a difference between the methodologies employed in online verification and book verification. (For example, I quite publicly learned in February what a parody site was a while back. I doubt you'd find a “parody” book in the library.)

I agree with David Warlick:

“This is a crucial problem for us in education, equipping our students with the skills to critically evaluate the information that they encounter. It is probably the most frequent complaint that I hear from educators about the Internet, as they try to teach that which their students must learn.

There are many of us teachers offering up our anecdotal evidence to say:

“Hey, we've got a problem here. Our digital literacy skills are sorely lacking EVERYWHERE. We've got to do a better job! All of us, me included!”

We need practical review of this problem. I want to see researchers looking at what is being taught and see some trends in digital citizenship skills of students including the literacy component but also the others.

Let's get to the facts.

The point here is digital literacy, not what happened on 9/11 ,but verification of sources and making up one's own mind and having the process in place to do that. Not centering around what a teacher thinks, but rather a sound way to make decisions that is not flawed by accepting what one reads just because the website is pretty.

I believe that some read into my post that teachers should impose their viewpoint on their students. In fact, Gary Stager asks on David Warlicks post on this:

“CNN (a reputable news source) ran a story today about the mysterious jet seen flying over the White House during the attacks of 9-11-01. White House correspondent John King narrated the report.

Analysts speculate that the jet was a secret air force command plane, but the response from the FAA, Pentago and White House is, “no comment.”

What would happen if a student decided to include speculation about the mystery jet for their school 9/11 assignment?”

As I responded to Gary:

I think that CNN has veracity, I think that the first site he [my son] came to did not. We could probably debate my conclusions forever. Let’s keep the focus on digital literacy.

I do not advocate mind control or self imposition of my own opinion. I advocate verification of sources.”

We all seem to agree that this is important.

And if we have a suspicion that we aren't teaching it appropriately, we should look into it if we care about education!

Prove to me that the majority of kids are effective digital citizens and I'll be quiet.

Most of us teaching these skills know we are islands.

Insulting me in this case (or my son or his teacher) is really like a basketball player going after a commentator because the commentator is reporting disfavorably about what is happening on the court. I'm reporting things as I see them.

Let's get our head in the game and talk about making sure students are adequately literate (and good digital citizens.)

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Julie Lindsay September 15, 2007 - 6:50 am

Vicki, thanks for your comprehensive post and linked resources. You have really hit a nerve with many of us. I want to pick up on the whole school responsibility part. I am seeing this again in my new school to an extent where it is seen as the ‘IT’ teachers job to cover the ‘digital citizenship’ part of ‘the course’. Arghh! I believe it is everyone’s responsibility. And yes, the response is to not utilize online resources because of the fear factor and the inability of some educators (and parents) to come to grips with essential awareness and strategies for using the Internet as a valuable resource.
Digital and information literacy is no different to other forms of literacy, it is everyone’s responsibility to foster better understanding. I will accept no less from an educator and from a parent. I will not accept students sent to me by other teachers wanting online tools explained when it should be done in their class. Share the load, be a part of what we are all doing and take responsibility for 21st century learning.

Sunny September 15, 2007 - 11:50 am

The sad thing is that too many people don’t see, want to see, or understand the things you discuss in this post. Why is it that people are so afraid of schools changing how we do things? There was a great article in Time in December about moving our schools out of the 20th century. I was working in a system where we were all required to read and discuss the article. You would have thought that we had been asked to sign away our first born. It scares me to think that those who are supposed to be preparing kids for the future are seemingly too scared to do anything different from what they have always done!

On a side note–I saw that you are from Camilla. My mother’s family is from that part of the state. It amazes me how small the world is becoming.

bk2nocal September 16, 2007 - 6:47 am

I applaud your attention in this matter. As a college instructor, I often still find upper class students who can not perform a number of these “citizenship” activities well. Although I am a biased source of information because I am a Speech and Debate coach and a communication instructor, I would encourage teachers to explore opportunities to use debate across the curriculum to develop some of these skills. There are a number of websites now that offer online debating activities, and even if you do the debates face-to-face, the researching of both sides of an issue and the competitive need to identify what a quality source of information and how to compare sources of evidence, warrants for conclusions, etc. is an excellent way of developing some of these critical skills for achieving effective citizenship.

diane September 16, 2007 - 1:38 pm

The library is no longer just a physical place. A librarian does more than select books and monitor media hardware.

The modern Library Media Specialist functions as a facilitator for the location, retrieval, and integration of information in all of its manifestations.

Schools need to stop regarding teacher/librarians as add-ons and recognize them as essential partners in literacy instruction across the curriculum.

Joyce Valenza
is only one of the many professionals modeling the role of teacher/librarians as information literacy leaders.

Vicki A. Davis September 17, 2007 - 12:33 am

Julie –
You are so right! It is for all of us! And right now, it is not viewed that way!

Good for your school discussing that article. It does make people very uncomfortable but we must change. Self imposed change is often the hardest, but I always say it is better to force it on myself than have someone who doesn’t understand my circumstances force it on me.

Yes verification of sources is vital and debate is one of the best ways to force that to occur. I am using source verification heavily in my Current Events class as we debate.

Yes the library is so much more than a physical place, however, so few view it that way. Joyce and Doug Johnson (and perhaps yourself) are some of the few examples of librarians who truly understand these things. It is the exception however, with many librarians holding onto dusty books while kids go to the library and go to Google.

Tom Hoffman September 17, 2007 - 4:30 am


A lot of this is jostling between disciplines, although my take on this as an English teacher is probably the opposite of many other English teachers. “Digital literacy” is clearly part of the discipline of English, and “digital citizenship” is social studies/civics.

Vicki A. Davis September 17, 2007 - 4:40 am

I believe just as we are now taught to include reading in EVERY subject (it is called “reading across the content area” in our school) that this sort of literacy belongs in each and every class, particularly those where writing or any sort of project requiring research is involved.

I am in computer science and right now many people like me who have “the computers” are expected to teach all digital literacy/ digital citizenship issues.

I feel that is not enough. If I get them in eighth grade and they are coming onto the internet heavily in fourth grade (it gets lower each year) then I’m four years too late.

I look at it like this — the risk factors. We look at the risks of a car and feel that it is too important to let kids out on the road — we created drivers education and keeps all of us safer.

Likewise — the risks for kids are there — I feel they are too important to “find their way blindly” until they get into upper middle or high school when most of them have “computer” classes — too much has happened.

And I include digital citizenship to even include things like XBox Live where there are some pretty horrendous things happening. Digital citizenship is part of all of our electronic interactions. We need to keep kids safe and be smart about what we’re doing.

Most people I talk to (in fact, I’ve never really had one disagree) feel that kids are sorely lacking in this area.

I really feel that many of us agree on this one and it needs to become an important issue.

profv September 17, 2007 - 11:15 pm

I found Joyce’s comments interesting. What we have just experienced in New York state (I am not sure if this is the same in other states) is a turf war as to who should be able to teach information literacy. In the past, there was a certification for teachers in educational technology. Two years ago, the requirements were changed to fit to the library science program so now there is an educational media specialist (outside of the classroom) responsible for digital and information media and an educational technology specialist within the administrative branch that focuses on the choice of education and the technical aspects (certified within the education administration). What this has done in our schools is to take the responsibility of teaching information technology and literacy out of the classroom, pitting “education” against “library science” in teacher education programs. As Julie points out, however, technology should be across the curriculum, with teachers (and librarians and administrators) expected to integrate technology into their classes (sharing responsibilities). Has anyone else experienced this disconnect between the “technicians”, the classroom, and the librarians?

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