State Leaders Empower Students to Be Active Digital Citizens

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Written by: Ji Soo Song
Dec. 2, 2020

This guest post comes from Ji Soo Song, senior policy advisor at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.
Educators overwhelmingly agree that digital citizenship is critical to help students make informed decisions online and to build inclusive online communities. However, recent surveys show that most digital citizenship education focuses primarily on cyberbullying and privacy. While important, this approach to digital citizenship instruction is limiting and fails to promote the opportunities technology provides to empower students.

In response, the DigCitCommit Coalition, formed from organizations focused on best practices in digital citizenship, comprehensively defines digital citizenship using five distinct competencies: Digital citizens are inclusive, informed, engaged, balanced and alert. These competencies have become especially important in 2020 as many students continue to receive instruction and interact with peers online.

In Washington, state leaders recognize their systemic responsibility to ensure that a comprehensive view of digital citizenship is not only embedded into instruction, but also can continue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning. Below, Dennis Small, director of educational technology at the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, shares his state’s story and advice for other leaders.

Which efforts were in motion prior to COVID-19 to support educators with digital citizenship?

In 2016, state legislators called on OSPI to conduct an environmental scan of how digital citizenship instruction is currently integrated and suggest how this work may move forward. Accordingly, we convened statewide stakeholders to develop a recommendations report, which among other items, defined digital citizenship to not only focus on online safety, but also advocacy and evaluation of accurate and valid information — all skills necessary to prepare active citizens in a functioning democracy.

In line with the report’s recommendation to support professional development in digital citizenship, we delivered targeted training to approximately 400 school librarians. Further, in partnership with the Washington State School Directors’ Association, we developed model policies for local school boards to consider to better foster students’ digital citizenship skills.

How are you ensuring that educators can support students’ digital citizenship skills during and beyond COVID-19?

We recognized early during the pandemic that educator preparedness for remote learning was a significant barrier. We quickly mobilized to create model instructional guidance and to leverage our state’s funding under the CARES Act to deliver asynchronous modules on effective remote pedagogy.

When it comes to digital citizenship in particular, we are focusing on equipping educators with high-quality resources that they can redesign and remix based on their school communities’ and students’ interests. Through a state grant, districts are currently creating and sharing openly licensed curricular units on digital citizenship and media literacy.

One strong example of this grant’s impact includes a “Digital Survival” curriculum developed by teacher leaders in Seattle Public Schools, which includes activities for high school students to learn about misinformation and fact-checking and explicitly shows a direct connection to our Washington Educational Technology Standards (adapted from the ISTE Standards for Students). These teacher leaders also collaborated with the University of Washington to plan a virtual “MisInfo Day 2020,” where students and educators had an opportunity to learn about a variety of topics related to digital citizenship, ranging from confirmation biases to algorithms that dictate suggested web content.

What advice do you have for other states engaging in this work?

First and foremost, educators need to know why this work matters. Work with your educators to ensure that digital citizenship is embedded into existing curricula, especially in topics such as English language arts, health and social studies. Also, don’t overlook the power of open educational resources in advancing digital citizenship. There are teacher leaders in your state that can contribute to the development and dissemination of high-quality instructional resources aligned to your state’s learning standards.

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