A New Digital Literacy: Teaching Kids to “Self-Police” Online
12.15.10 | In a story about how Facebook is handling the debate over free speech on the Internet, the New York Times covers the site’s role as arbiter in today’s information rich culture.
Facebook has a “hate and harassment team,” according to the story, whose job it is to take down content that is illegal or violates the site’s terms of service which prohibit material that is hateful, threatening, pornographic or incites violence or illegal acts.
The story details Facebook’s efforts to walk the fine line between allowing open exchange of ideas and allowing hate speech or content that incites violence.
But as online social spaces get even larger (Facebook has more than 500 million members uploading more than a billion pieces of content a day), experts say it’s going to have to be up to all of us, as members of these online communities, to learn to “self-police” and set our own digital standards.
It’s important for adolescents to develop good habits early so they are accustomed to being cautious when interacting in wide open networks.
– Patrick Woessner, instructional technology coordinator.
For educators and parents this means the focus on digital citizenship education becomes all the more crucial.
Educators who are leaders in this movement are making sure that learning to post content in a civil and responsible way is a core part of today’s technology and citizenship curricula.
Nichole Pinkard founded Chicago’s Digital Youth Network, a program that offers a wide array of digital media resources, instruction, and mentors both in and outside of school, in an effort to close the participation gap among minority youth in underserved neighborhoods.
Teaching young people to be good citizens online is an integral part of the curriculum.
While creating and producing unique content, the students also learn the ramifications and responsibilities of taking part in online exchanges, including how to critique others’ work in productive ways.
Patrick Woessner, a middle school instructional technology coordinator in Saint Louis, recognized the need to teach digital citizenship as well. While the majority of today’s students do understand what information should and should not be shared in a public space, he says, they need practice.
“It’s important for adolescents to develop good habits early so they are accustomed to being cautious when interacting in wide open networks” Woessner writes, in a post on his blog, Technology in the Middle.
Woessner shares a quote from one of his 7th grade students, who is appropriately grateful for the freedom they have on their schools’ social networking space, the Digital Literacy Learning Network (DLLN).
“What happens in the DLLN stays in the DLLN. If we do something stupid here, nobody else will know. If we do something stupid on Facebook, everyone will know.”
Read more about Woessner and his work building the digital citizenship curriculum at The Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS). His work was recently featured in the School Library Journal.
Pinkard and the Digital Youth Network have created a similar in-house social networking space, called iRemix. There the students post their own work, review others’, and share insights and ideas for collaboration on digital media projects, all with an eye to learning the ins and outs of this new landscape. Digital Youth Network has recently expanded to several additional communities in Chicago.
Woessner’s post summarizes lessons learned from each section of his 7-week digital literacy course, which he has been documenting on his blog. Topics covered include social bookmarking, website evaluation, effective search strategies and copyright and fair use, and includes helpful detail on what worked in the course, and more importantly, what didn’t.
His discussion of why his online study groups by content area were difficult for students is valuable. We also really liked his discussion of the importance of passion-based learning, which he defines as “an experience that empowers students to Discover and Consume, Communicate and Connect, and Create and Produce based on their deep-seated interests.” He exposed each student to the same set of skills but encourages them to do research and apply those skills to content of their choice.
If you’re even thinking of developing a course or lesson like this at your school, or just want to be informed about how to talk with the children in your life about being responsible citizens of a digitally literate nation, don’t miss this post.
Plus: Common Sense Media is partnering with Verizon to get their digital citizenship message out to parents. Common Sense Media’s blogs and video tips with advice on topics from cyberbullying to online privacy to deciding when is the right time to get your child a cell phone will be available on The Verizon Parental Controls Center. Verizon will also host 13 lessons and videos from their curriculum “Digital Citizenship in a Connected Culture” on Verizon’s thinkfinity.org.
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