Sunday, January 10, 2016

Every School's Obligation

Just because today’s students have grown up in a technology-rich world does not mean that they know how to effectively and responsibly utilize technology. It is a common misconception that today’s learners can seamlessly transition from the routine use of devices for personal reasons to using them for learning, research, and enhanced productivity. We routinely hear how students use digital tools inappropriately for sexting, cyberbullying, cheating, video recording teachers, and fights with peers, and plagiarizing. Unfortunately, these behaviors materialize as schools are not doing their part to educate students on digital responsibility, citizenship, and creating a positive footprint online. 

When I was principal at New Milford High School, we have made it our responsibility to integrate digital responsibility across the curriculum. Our program began early in the school year with assemblies for every grade level. During this time, we presented the root causes of cyberbullying as well as strategies and advice to prevent it. We then transitioned into online conduct in social media spaces and how that can impact college acceptances and employment. During this part of the presentation, I pointed out to students the fact that once they post something online (i.e., comments, pictures, videos, etc.), that information can be accessed, adapted, archived, and shared by anyone who has access to their accounts. Near the end of the presentation, I asked each student to Google themselves and share any content they discovered during the search that they were not aware of. It is at this point that reality really sets in. 

In addition to a presentation early in the year, we consistently integrated digital tools (social media, Web 2.0, mobile devices) throughout the school year to enhance learning, improve productivity,  develop critical digital literacies, and to conduct sound research. As students actively used these tools to connect, collaborate, contribute, and create, they were not only developing media literacy skills but also learning in a safe, transparent fashion. Teachers also worked with students to properly cite resources pulled from the Web, giving proper credit when they saw it was governed by a Creative Commons license. 

As they published their own work in the form of learning artifacts, they begin to create a positive digital footprint that they could be proud of. The systematic integration of technology, modeling of effective use by school staff, education programs for both student and parents, and an immersive culture (1:1 or BYOD) all aided in educating students on digital citizenship. Common Sense Media offers a free digital literacy and citizenship curriculum that leaders can easily begin to implement in their schools. 

In an ever-increasing digital world, our students need us more than ever to not only help them make sense of a tsunami of information but also more importantly how to be safe and responsible. Don't assume that these vital lessons are happening at home. It is the responsibility of schools to educate all learners regardless of age on these important topics. What are you and your school/district doing to address this? Are your current programs and initiatives up to par? Schools that work for kids make it their obligation.


  1. Eric,
    Thank you for sharing. I think that we spend far too much time telling students what NOT to do with technology that we fail to teach them HOW to use it effectively and in a positive manner. I think your presentation at our school (Livonia Public Schools) last fall helped us start this process, but we need to make it a part of who we are and what we do each school day. Thanks again for the resources!

  2. Eric,

    Well said. I agree that many adults assume since students have the devices in their hands and pockets every day that they MUST know how to use them correctly and for 'good' and not 'evil'. As educators we even sometimes fall into this trap and instead need to guide students better. I wrote a blog on the topic a short time back on how students are digital tourists and NOT digital natives as we'd hope:

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