The best way to understand how a digital citizenship program can work in a school is to see it in action. My go-to example is the Trafalgar School for Girls. This isn’t because two of my own daughters go to the school, but because in my consulting work with private and public schools across the province, I have yet to come across such an innovative response to a new educational reality. Refreshingly enough, its fundamental strengths aren’t about material resources such as new computers, but about creative thinking and a whole school approach.
When Trafalgar decided to adopt a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) iPad policy for all its students in September 2011, they realized that simply incorporating the technology wasn’t enough. They had to rethink important elements of teaching, school culture, policy and curriculum.
With the help of an enthusiastic committee of faculty, staff and parents, librarian Lina Gordaneer took on a leadership role coordinating the various stakeholders. Consider the school’s technology policy: like many institutions, their old policy was written in the kind of obtuse, legal language that few people (let alone teenagers) ever bother to read. In order to turn this boring document into a real teaching tool, Gordaneer got the students involved. She asked them what they felt it needed to say. What should be added? Changed? Expanded?
“It was important to have a document that clearly outlines what we expect of them,” Gordaneer explained. “But it was also important not to be entirely prescriptive about it, not to be only disciplinarians, though there is a time for that too.
“We need to show them what the etiquette is, how to be on the Internet, just as we teach them, in other ways, how to be in the world. Kids today actually are very concerned about their privacy. Just because they don’t always show responsible use of social media doesn’t mean they ultimately don’t care.”
With the students’ help, the policy was rewritten in accessible language and was given the pro-technology focus it deserved. She consulted the teachers and school staff. Parents were invited to weigh in. Every year, the new Grade 7 students are given a chance to offer their perspective during technology workshops. Instead of a long list of don’ts, Trafalgar’s student social media policy takes a proactive approach. A second, related set of guidelines was written for Trafalgar’s teachers and staff, so they could also be aware of the best practices related to their personal, professional and legal responsibilities in a digital age.
“Having a social media policy is just the beginning.” Gordaneer explained. “It needs to have real life correlations in the school and at home as well. It should be referred back to when discussions come up in class about related ethics, digital access or real world events.
“If a math class is doing a blog, we can also talk about the rules around blogging. Or if you’re using a social media or chat site for class discussions, we will talk about what the etiquette is there. It can all be related to the social media policy but that’s just the starting point for their learning.”
Consequently, the next piece in building a digital citizenship program was staff development and support. The teaching staff needed a way to regularly discuss how the integration of technology may impact their teaching. For example, when students are using their iPads, an effective teacher walks around the classroom instead of staying at the front of the class, to see what is on students’ screens.
Beyond that, the teachers needed help figuring out how to best integrate these incredibly powerful new technologies into their various subjects. A history teacher might want students to build a Wiki to collaborate in their learning and create a new resource. A music teacher can find composition and post-production tools, an art teacher may want to experiment with other digital devices and apps. And sometimes the teacher will want to stick to the conventional (and still powerful) tools of books, pens and paper. It’s all about having choices.
“Our digital citizenship toolkit has evolved out of a need to support new ways of working,” Gordaneer said. Students are shown tools and methods to evaluate a website if it hasn’t been vetted by Gordaneer or a teacher, and they’re shown where to get copyright-free images. Students become more effective in their work and they’ll be better prepared for CEGEP and university.
Parents are often a neglected part of a school’s digital citizenship program, but Trafalgar has worked hard to reach them through information workshops and opportunities for input.
“I think that a lot of parents are feeling a bit anxious,” Gordaneer added, and they may be feeling under-prepared.
“One of my goals is to create a parent toolkit with tips and strategies for dealing with teenagers who are sleep-deprived because they stayed up late texting, to practical strategies for guiding tech use at home.”
Social media policies
Here is part of Trafalgar’s student social media policy. You can see it in its entirety at: http://bit.ly/Traf_socialmedia_policy.
- Behave the same online as you would offline.
- Treat people the way you would like to be treated.
- Use the Internet to put your best foot forward.
- Think before you post text, images and videos.
- Do not post anything you wouldn’t want friends, enemies, parents, teachers, or a future employer to see.
- Never post in anger. Step away from the keyboard and think before you type.
- Always think about the effect your words might have before you post.
What goes online stays online
- Be respectful. Always ask permission before forwarding someone else’s words/emails/texts/etc.
- Always ask permission before uploading and tagging a picture of someone.
- Never break into someone else’s accounts.
- Never pretend to be someone you aren’t.
- Respect yourself! The Internet is a powerful tool with enormous potential.