Tag Archives: digital citizenship

It’s time. #socialLEADia

In the concluding thoughts in my book, Social LEADia, I call upon my favourite poem by Robert Frost to talk about the decision that stands before us in Education when it comes to using social media:

So it seems to me that stand before two roads diverging in a wood.

Some stand and don’t choose a road. They shake their heads and bemoan the woes of living in a digital age. They cite privacy issues and big data, and hope that everything will resolve itself or that miraculously social media will go away.

One road is well travelled. It is one where fear and negativity prevail, and the path is so worn that we constantly try to fix the potholes. On this path, our lessons cannot include social media because it is blocked and banned and students are left to navigate digital spaces on their own . We know inevitably where this road leads because so many have been down that path before.

The other road is less travelled. It is somewhat “grassy and wants wear” because not as many people choose that way. But it is one that the teachers and students featured in this book have travelled. It is one where we think differently and act differently when it comes to leveraging the potential of social media. It is being led by the next generation of changemakers with positivity, creativity, and hope.

Just today I experienced several things that tell me that more people are longing to travel or are travelling the road to positivity than we think!

First, I was looking at new publication, ISTE Standards for Students So many of the standards for students require us to think differently about teaching and learning. In particular, when we consider the criteria for Empowered Learner, Creative Communicator, and Global Collaborator, as well as Digital Citizen.

Along with the ISTE standards, came a magazine called, “Empowered Learner,” also published by ISTE. In it, CEO Richard Culatta shares the following quote that pops out in the sidebar:

“I worry that too many digital citizenship conversations focus on what not to do, and that’s not very compelling. It’s much more compelling to talk about what we should be doing and how we could be using tech tools to make our communities and the world around us a better place.” (page 10)

He then goes on to say,

“So in addition to helping our kids recognize the things to watch out for, we encourage them to be leaders in the digital space to encourage other people to use that medium to do good.” (page 10)


This is exactly the premise of Social LEADia, inspired by the definition of Digital Leadership from George Couros (2013) and which 17 year old Najha Marshall explicitly states as well:

“Adults keep telling us what not to do, but they never tell us what we should do.” (Social LEADia

It is so awesome to hear the CEO of ISTE express similar sentiments!!!

I also read an article by Emily Weinstein, found in the ISTE Digital Citizenship Resources, who draws from her experience at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Common Sense media to write, Debunking 5 myths about kids and their tech.

And finally, I got this tweet from Mr. McClenaghan. What really struck me was the line. “I’ve been waiting for your voice!” He also shared a post he had written.

I am so heartened by this growing movement towards making sure we balance our fears of technology with the incredible power and potential it has for our learners! It is definitely about time!

If you are at the ISTE conference this year, please consider coming to my talk and join us on the road less travelled.



Source: “Interview: Richard Culatta: ISTE CEO shares his vision for ISTE, previews coming attractions.”

Empowered Learner. ISTE Publishing. Arlington: July 2017.


New DigCit Resource: Be Internet Awesome is almost Awesome #SocialLEADia

Google’s Be Internet Awesome is a newly released resource that combines internet safety with gaming. It looks like it would work well for upper primary/junior students.

It uses a Quest motif and an imaginary land called, “Interland” and its purpose is to teach students to “Be Internet Awesome”. I LOVE the sound of that!!

It focuses on five key lessons:

  • Be Internet Smart: Share with care
  • Be Internet Alert: Don’t fall for fake
  • Be Internet Strong: Secure your secrets
  • Be Internet Kind: It’s cool to be kind
  • Be Internet Brave: When in doubt, talk it out

All of these are very powerful and important points.

I went through one of the lands, “Mindful Mountain” just to try it out. This part of the quest reinforces that “you must be very intentional about what you share”

The user goes through a series of scenarios and makes you determine whether or not it is appropriate to share with friends, family, or others.  The idea is that you use the game features and you lose and/or gain points depending on your accuracy.

I received points and the following information at the end:

-Savvy Sharer (thoughtfully consider what you share and with whom)

-Patient Poster (pause and keep extra sensitive information to yourself)

-Informed Internaut (understand the power and consequences that come along with sharing)

What’s great about it:

  • The lessons themselves and conversations that would result from these lessons are definitely great.
  • The different mountains “Kind Kingdom”, “Mindful Mountain”, “Tower of Treasure” and “Reality River” are definitely far more positive than much of the fear-mongering that we often use when talking about internet safety, and touch upon a comprehensive approach to helping kids navigate online spaces.
  • Even when mistakes are made, the game is iterative so that you continue trying until you arrive at the right answer.
  • Reinforces the importance of empowering students to be upstanders
  • Internet & Safety Course is now available on Google to support teachers

What’s not that great about it:

  • If you are not a good gamer (like me), you lose points even if you know the right answer which can be frustrating for some kids (or literally, maybe this is just me??)
  • Sometimes, when trying to get to the next level, students don’t always read the text (in this case the digital citizenship lessons) carefully
  • The Be Internet Awesome pledge, while excellent, needs to be co-constructed with kids for them to really feel ownership of it.
  • As good as it is, it still exists out of context.

One of the chapters in my book, Social LEADia stresses the need for tackling Digital Citizenship in context and as a basis for Digital Leadership. A student can know Interland inside out and it may very well transfer to their own use of the internet, but it would be way more powerful if these lessons were reinforced throughout the school year, rather than tackled in a discrete unit.

I cite the theory of situated cognition which states that, “learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential and knowledge must be applied in context in order to be used and made explicit” (Brown et al, 1989).

This is why I showcase the examples of Stephanie Viveiros, Kayla Delzer, and Robert Cannone who show us what it looks like to do this work using a class account (i.e. students have ownership of the account but technically the teacher posts because students are too young). I also talk about how Julie Millan and Diana Hale involve their students in the process of what responsible use of technology looks like. It’s also how with the mentorship of Jennifer Scheffer students like Timmy Sullivan are confident leaders both on and offline, and how Rachel Murat‘s high school students have moved beyond digital citizenship to digital leadership.

Here’s an excerpt from the Digital Citizenship in Context chapter:

Having a class Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook account affords you so many unique opportunities. It can help to reinforce the following points and Digital Citizenship elements (I use Mike Ribble’s Digital Citizenship Elements):

-We emphasize that not everyone has equal access to technology (Digital Access)

-We only check our social media feed at certain times during the day to ensure a healthy balance (Digital Health and Wellness)

-We don’t put our notifications on because we don’t want to be distracted by them (Digital Etiquette)

-The classes and accounts that follow us are opportunities to connect with people: other classes from other communities and learn from them (Digital Communication)

-Our worth is not determined by how many followers we have because the most important thing is that we engage in conversations and relationships with the followers we do have (Digital Health)

-We block anyone who proves to be inappropriate or is trying to sell us something (Digital Security)

-We notice that there are some posts that are sponsored (Digital Commerce)

-We pay attention to how “edited” a photo might be by asking,” I wonder how many times they had to try to get such a perfect photo” (Digital Health and Wellness)

-We emphasize that a “like” isn’t the same as making a comment and forging a relationship, and that when you like something it means you agree with it  (Digital Literacy)

-We ask clarifying questions rather than making statements when we don’t agree with something or when we are not quite sure of the intent (Digital Communication)

-We delete a post if we think it might be misconstrued (Digital Communication)

-We regularly check our settings to see if anything has changed and talk about what should be private (stay in the classroom) and public (fine to share with the world) (Digital Security)

-We create a strong password and check for possible fake accounts following ours (Digital Security)

-When we use a hashtag, we understand that anyone can see our post even if they are not following our class account (Digital Literacy)

And So…

Use the Be Internet Awesome Pledge, (the headings), but allow your students to come up with the descriptors so they take ownership of it.

Use Be Internet Awesome as a foundation, but also engage in real-life sharing  using Digital Leadership as a framework with a class account.


Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42

Character Day–A good start to the school year

Character Day

I had a really interesting conversation last night with Diana Hale, a teacher in the Toronto District School Board about the negative experiences she had in her classroom and her subsequent reflection that Digital Citizenship cannot be taught as a discrete unit. She is among many of us who recognize that Digital Citizenship needs to be taught in context and that a guided use of social media needs to happen in classrooms in order to help students navigate online spaces.  An essential element to this is for adults to recognize that for our students, the online and offline world are actually an extension of one another; not in fact two separate worlds.  One of the strategies Diana used in her class was to look at literature (she used the Weird Series) to explore bullying which she applied to online situations as well.  Using literature or film provide an excellent opportunity for students to explore abstract concepts, and challenging ideas and a skillful teacher can then bring it back to the students’ own experiences (which today include online experiences as well).

So I was very excited this morning to receive a notification about an upcoming webinar featuring Tiffany Shlain and Character Day.

Character Day is a free annual day and global initiative where groups around the world screen films on the science of character development from different perspectives, dive into free printed discussion materials, and join an online global conversation around the importance of developing character strengths (resilience, grit, empathy, courage, kindness)–all rooted in evidence-based research (from the website).

As much as I dislike “one-off’s”, Character Day is exciting for a couple of reasons:

  • it’s free
  • Sharing is happening on social media which models for kids how it can be a place of solidarity, learning, and sharing
  • it happens early in the school year and yearly
  • the event is one day but the high quality resources are available all year long
  • the lessons are based on films which provide access to most learners
  • the films are short!
  • the quality of the films are exceptional because the founder, Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker
  • it provides an opportunity for students to see themselves in a global context and within a global conversation
  • it helps students practice Digital Leadership

Ideas for Implementation

The Teacher-Librarian as the Hub

As I embark upon a new teacher-librarian position, I can see not only sharing information with all Departments for September 22nd and partnering with teachers to brainstorm ideas for classroom implementation, but I also think that  creating a buzz in the Library and screening the films over the lunch hour would be a great way to bring an awareness to the entire school.

Innovation team

I am hoping to re-frame the current Ed Tech Team into an Innovation team; this is not a name change only.  I think that we need to move beyond the idea that the Help Desk or Genius Bar at a school, co-run by students, focuses solely on fixing tech and trouble-shooting.  If we truly want our kids to become digital leaders, we need for them to understand, just as many teachers do that character is a part of how we interact online–it is connected to using images fairly and citing sources correctly, maintaining a healthy balance between tech and non-tech, communicating clearly and respectfully online and offline, etc…  Involving an innovation team (ed tech team–whatever you call it) in this initiative may set the stage for the work they do the rest of the school year.  They will probably have some awesome ideas for activities that could be used during the Library lunch events too!

District-wide participation

What I will miss about being a Literacy Consultant at the District level is to be able to rally many schools together to participate and share.  If you are a District leader (or have a network of schools with whom you are connected), consider making Character Day a District-wide or multi-school event. Share what you are doing (pics, videos, etc…) not only with the event hashtag, but your own community/District hashtag.  We recently started a Collaborative Blog for our District, why not use the power of Google Apps for Education to create a collaborative journal of what you did and what you learned and post it to a collaborative blog so that the entire District can see it?

Beyond September 22nd

Just like Global Day of Design was meant to get teachers thinking about design thinking in the classroom, Character Day should really be a springboard for ongoing conversations and activities that help kids become good people whether they are online or offline.


Watch 1min Character Day Trailer from The Moxie Institute on Vimeo.

Visit the Character Day website and sign up today and participate in one of the free webinars they are offering. Hope to see you then!


Music.ly in the Classroom


Music.ly is an app that allows for the creation and sharing of music videos. Like any app that allows for public sharing, there are definitely pros & cons. I have heard educators talk about this app as the worst app for kids to be on, and yet when you play with it, you can definitely see why kids (and adults) would be drawn to it!  It allows for the creation of professional-looking videos which are easy to share with friends.  Here’s one that Sylvia Duckworth created during a Pub PD–just for fun!

I just “followed” my 8 year-old niece’s account and my sister is so proud of how very creative Ashlin is when using the Music.ly app. She doesn’t just use it for music videos, but also to create skits. Just the other day, a little girl with whom I was speaking, told me that she loves the app and that it is the one she uses most on her iPod.

The app itself offers unique features which is why users would be drawn to it.  It is fun and easy to use. Within minutes you can create professional looking music videos (lip sync or original). Check out an overview Here.

There are teachers and parents who are concerned due to content that may be sexually provocative and issues around privacy.  Despite the fact that the app suggests 12 as a minimum age, parents are saying it’s more appropriate for older kids. This is what parents had to say via Common Sense Media, despite the fact that kids themselves rated it much lower.

One of the main ideas of my upcoming book, Social LEADia is that any social media app or tool can be used for good or for nefarious reasons. I firmly believe that rather than shut it down, or ignore its existence, it is important to have conversations around privacy and appropriate content in the context of using the tool

Better yet, we need to listen and ask about how your students are using this app. This not only helps us strengthen relationships with them, but it may lead to surprising opportunities to allow the curriculum to come alive for some students.

I LOVE this video example:

I love it because it shows how very creative people can be and how some tools may be made for one purpose but offer incredible opportunities for other applications.

Crucial Conversations:

The most important conversations involve privacy and appropriate content.  You do need an email to sign up and you need to create a username.  Some people don’t feel comfortable using their full name and so a crucial conversation involve pros and cons around real vs user name.

The default is set to public.  This means that anyone can download your music.ly.  For example, I downloaded the above video to my Youtube channel. You absolutely need to know that someone may possibly download your Music.ly. That is not necessarily a bad thing if students are using the tool for digital leadership.

Like any app that allows a user to create content and other users to comment, necessary conversations need to be had around how to comment positively and how to react when there are negative comments made on your video.  This is SO important because it provides an in-the-moment and authentic opportunity to teach Digital Citizenship.

Use in the classroom

When a tool is used authentically and with the guidance of a classroom teacher, there is an opportunity to have those crucial conversations and explore some of the concerns together. Music.ly might be a good choice for any extension activity in which students create their own rap or dance or as in the example above for the creation of art with a music background.

The infographic below gives you an overview of the app.

Music.ly app

Link to infographic with hyperlinks here

What are your thoughts on this app? How can we create Music.ly apps with our students to be a more positive influence on others?

Social Media in the classroom: What to do when things go wrong

I have been and continue to be a strong advocate for using social media in the classroom to empower students.  I have been an active user of social media since 2011 and have never encountered any of the negativity I have heard people associate with it.  I mean, not ever in the 12, 696 Tweets and various Google +, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn posts!  I always put out positive and it always seems to come back to find me.

Early this morning, I wavered slightly when I was the target of online threats.

It happened on Blab at 2:30 a.m.  I had only recently explored Blab as a tool for possible integration in the classroom a couple of weeks ago.   I was a guest panelist for, Good Brings Good: Harnessing the Power of Connections for Social Change, as part of EdCamp Global, featuring Matone de Chiwit and Calliope’s Fran Siracusa.  Also on air were Sean Robinson and Tracy Brady along with Manel Trenchs  and Fabiana Cassella as well as others who joined.  We all stayed up for the time slot to share our enthusiasm for the powerful connections made with our classes and the young inventor Karishma Baghani around the topic of water scarcity.

And then the harassment started.  It began with negative comments put forward by “Dawn” who we later realized was not a real person, but a fake account created by someone on Twitter for the purpose of joining Blab to be negative and anonymous.  There were extremely anti-male sentiments and harassing statements directed at Sean.  I proceeded to say in the chat box how disappointed I was that such an important topic was being sabotaged by negativity.  Fran was able to remove “her” and we continued.

Blab chat

Shortly thereafter, another “user” entered the Blab and spewed hateful anti-male sentiments towards both Sean and Manel Trenchis i Mola, who joined us from Barcelona.  I firmly believe it was the same person under the guise of a different username. The abuse was along similar lines. Fran tried to remove the user once again, but this time, it wasn’t working.  I tried to post positive comments but as I continued to do so, the user sent me threatening messages–directed not just at me, but clearly the person had looked at my Twitter profile and realized that I had two daughters and threatened them.

Fran and the panel of guests addressed the issue but also continued on with the presentation remarkably well.  Because Blab does not record the chat, a viewer would find it difficult to tell when this all started.

In the subsequent hours, (between 3 & 4:30 am ET), we each set out to Report and Block both of the users.   I emailed Blab, contacted Twitter.  Fran meticulously deleted all of the negative comments so they couldn’t be seen in the replay. The group of amazing educators who had been in on the planning for the Good-Brings-Good Global Edcamp session got together on our group chat (Direct Message on Twitter) to talk about what happened and to support one another with words, Bitmojiis, and images.  The conversation then extended to Voxer where we continued to support each other and where we talked about what we could have done differently next time.

In my case, even before I woke up, my husband had already talked to my 13 year-old about the incident.  When I came down for breakfast, she told me that she had gone into all of her accounts and checked to make sure nothing was unusual.  She had also checked my 16 year-old’s phone (as she is in Ecuador) and made sure nothing untoward was happening there either.  She told me that she had also strengthened her passwords “just to be on the safe side”.  Then she asked if I was ok.  I just about sobbed.  My biggest fear was that somehow the threats made could actually happen, despite knowing that it would be extremely unlikely that someone would harm my kids from afar.

I don’t tell this story because I want to frighten you. I don’t tell it because I think we should all swear off social media.  I tell it because as distressed as I was,  I am more convinced than ever that we need to help and guide kids to navigate these spaces together.  This negative experience has probably pushed my thinking more than has been possible when I’ve only known the positive.  Sean Guillard shared the image below on Instagram and it immediately resonated.  What happens in the classroom when a wrong note is hit?  Being thoughtful and proactive will ensure that the next note is good.

wrong note

Anticipate that something may go wrong.

Stay Calm.

Do you have children?  If you do, you will be familiar with this scenario.  Your child falls and you react extremely negatively, you screech or cry out or gasp.  What does your child do?  Sobs and wails uncontrollably.  But what happens when I purposefully suck in my breath, carry on, offer support in a very even keel voice as if nothing really frightening has happened?  My children miraculously brushed themselves off and continued to play.    The most important thing to do when something unexpected, unfamiliar, or negative happens when using social media (really apply this wisdom to anything) is to stay calm and think things through logically.  If you watch the Replay of the Blab, you will see Fran as the model of composure even though she was panicking to block and eject the offender.  You will see Sean continue to talk about the power of student voice even though he is being attacked in the chat box.  Your calmness will in turn instill calm.  Your panic will make everyone anxious and fearful.

Think Aloud

When I presented at the GAFE Summit in Kitchener this past Spring, I decided it would be a good idea to do a live Google Hangout.  As you can imagine, anything that could go wrong, did.  Nothing was working, then I shared the wrong link and had to eject someone (not because he was being inappropriate, but there was audio interference).  Even though I was shaking in front of a rather large audience, my literacy background must have kicked in because I engaged in a problem-solving-think-aloud.  That is, I explained what I was doing to solve the problem in a methodical and practical way. Many people later shared how important that was and how much they appreciated me thinking through and problem-solving out loud as they saw what they would do if the same thing happened to them.  As I was thinking about what I would do if a negative incident happened in the classroom, it would be important to say these kinds of things as you are doing them:

  • “First I will look for a way to block this user because this is extremely inappropriate and uncomfortable.  Blocking them will make sure we don’t see them anymore.
  • “I will take a screenshot of the username and the negative things being said so I can have a record of it”
  • “I will need to report this to the company and talk to the principal about this.  I can send the screenshots I took.”
  • “I think I need to change my password and make it stronger, just in case this person tries to get into my accounts.”
  • “I wonder what we could do differently next time so this doesn’t happen again.”

Making this thinking visible will give them a frame for when this might happen to them as they personally engage in using social media (which we all know they are doing at younger and younger ages).

Plan that Something will go wrong

In an ensuing conversation with Marialice Curran, I spoke about overcoming the feeling helplessness with a proactive action plan.  She made the analogy of a Fire Escape plan which makes so much sense.

We have kids engage in Fire Drills & Lock down drills.  We don’t wish for these things to happen, but when we anticipate that something could go wrong, and talk about it as a class, we empower our students to act in the event that action is necessary.  And we do this to keep them safe.  A simple question like, “What might go wrong if we use this tool and what will we do about it?” may suffice.   In the case of Blab, Fran reflected that having more than one moderator/host would have been helpful since only a moderator can remove participants.  This can be true for other live-streaming tools as well.

It may also help to include the following elements in your action plan:


As much as I always give everyone the benefit of the doubt, someone who is being negative on social media is not likely going to turn around and be grateful to me for helping them to be more positive. Trying to reason with someone who is negative is futile.  It definitely didn’t work for me–in fact in retrospect, standing up to the person is what prompted the threatening messages.  It is important to continue as if nothing is happening and not engage in any way.


One of my favourite quotes by George Couros is this:

He coined it after he had a potentially negative situation arose in front of a live audience of students. I vividly remember him sharing his story with me and it was all I could think of during the Blab, but unfortunately, I was the only one who was putting in positive comments and because I was also trying to take screen shots, the effort was not enough.  I keep thinking how different it would have been if we had talked about this beforehand, and how much more effective and powerful all of us would have been at drowning out that one hateful voice.   This was a strategy kids came up with when we had a negative situation on Yik Yak as well.  To me, this is the most important thing we can do to empower our kids in a negative situation.

Jennifer Williams, who also reached out, said this: “Breaks my heart to think that there are people out there that are hurting so badly that they intentionally try to cause harm to others. Just another reason to spread in our world the best we can.”


Some apps really have no idea that educators are thinking of innovative ways to incorporate them; thus they are not being created with kids and safety in mind.  If something negative happens, talk to the class about what action they’d like to take.

“Should we contact the company with our suggestions about how this tool could be safer?”

Again the intent is to empower.  Kids need to know that if there is something that needs to be fixed that they can be part of the solution.  It could very well be that the company had never even considered the suggestions that the kids might come up with.  They often surprise us and learning should lead to action.


If an incident happens in class, it is important to communicate this with parents and families about how to help. It is also important to think about what and how you communicate.  Parents need to know that something happened that made everyone uncomfortable, and what steps that could be taken at home, but it is also extremely helpful that the tone  (or the words) reflect the fact that there are important lessons to be learned by engaging in the guided use of social media together as a class which their child will take with them when they navigate the tools on their own.  If your tone wavers to suggest that you should not have been using this tool in the first place, you are just opening up yourself for trouble. Parents need to be assured that the choices you make in class are for the goal of learning.  A summary of the learning goals and what the children have decided as a plan of action moving forward would also help parents feel that the teacher and the school are being thoughtful and diligent about the choices being made.


Having said, that, using technology as well as social media always requires critical thinking on the part of the teacher.  Once you establish your purpose, you (or the kids) select a tool which would most easily and effectively help you arrive at your learning goal. Blab is a great tool for discussion and debate.  Periscope is a great live streaming tool. But both are public and anyone can jump in.  The time of day probably matters too, during the school day, you may be less likely to have someone come in than if it’s in the evening (or at 2 am!)  Though it’s never the tool, but the user(s) of the tool which make it negative, you may not necessarily want to engage in a public Blab with kids under the age of 13 or at least practice using it as unlisted first.  If you choose to use a tool, awareness and collaborative conversations are necessary.

Here is an article with some tips for online abuse on Blab which may apply to other tools as well.

The topic and Blab itself was a demonstration of the positive! Despite what happened there was powerful sharing about how students were positively impacted by a project which allowed them to become passionate about a project that could helps make the lives of others better.  Whatever else, getting involved in this project will provide.  Sean’s blog is a great place to learn about this and other Connections-based learning projects.  And check out the Our Blue Earth project in collaboration with Karishma which is still ongoing for the next school year.

I leave you with the sentiment expressed by Manel at the end of the Blab as he is being harassed in the chat:

“There is a lot of work to be done to help use social media in a good way”

Indeed there is.  We can’t let negative experiences prevent us from engaging in these online spaces with kids.  I shudder at the thought of a child or teen going through what I went through all alone because we just don’t feel comfortable going there.  I am grateful to the community of friends that reached out to me and to Sean after this incident.

 And I am ever mindful that it is a community of friends whom I know mostly only virtually: by way of social media.

School should be that safe community for kids and so should their online spaces.


Digital Citizenship, Learning, and Student Voice

“Just as schools have played a role in preparing students to be citizens in the traditional sense, educators must now ensure that our children are ready to be active and responsible participants in our increasingly digital society”

(Couros & Katia, 2015, pg 6).

There isn’t a single educator who would argue with the fact that we need to teach kids how to navigate online spaces safely and critically.  What I have noticed however is that there is an extremely huge variance in what educators think this should look like.  In my research this week I am overwhelmed by the number of different definitions of digital citizenship as well as the different components.  If you google, “digital citizenship defined,” there are 506,000 results.  It seems like every District and every organization is trying to come up with their own unique framework.  This makes sense to me on some level as every school District, every school even has its own culture.

But are we creating these frameworks on a grand scale which then become stagnant?  Are they simply units that need to be “covered” and checked off?  Even in my own practice, I curated this resource in 2011 which I now look at and would (and will when I have time) completely revamp because my own stance and the kind of choices I would make today are radically different.  Is it a decent resource that teachers, especially those who are not comfortable utilizing in online spaces would find supportive? Absolutely.  But, I know that personally I would need the resources I use to match the group of students I had in front of me and the learning context in my class.

To me, it is an absolute necessity, to teach kids how to navigate online spaces in creative, critical healthy and ethical ways (my own definition of digital citizenship) positively, in context rather than isolation.

This is supported by research about situated cognition (Brown, Collins, Duguid, 1989) around reading, writing, and mathematics, which has stood the test of time and which I believe is completely relevant to this conversation.  Consider these quotations about student learning:

  • learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential and knowledge must be applied in context in order to be used and made explicit (Brown et al, 1989).
  • Research around using vocabulary words from a dictionary to teach reading show learning to be ineffective because “learning from dictionaries, like any method that tries to teach abstract concepts independently of authentic situations, overlooks the way understanding is developed through continued, situated use. (Brown et al., page 33).  
  • People who use tools actively rather than just acquire them, appear to build an increasingly rich implicit understanding of the world in which they use the tools and of the tools themselves. (Brown et all, 1989, pg 33).
  • given the chance to observe and practice in situ the behavior of members of a culture, people pick up relevant jargon, imitate behavior, and gradually start to act in accordance with its norms  and that despite the fact that cultural practices are often extremely complex, students, when given the opportunity to observe and practice them, students adopt them with great success.  (Brown et al., 1989, page 34)

And now apply this analogy to using technology tools and social media in context.  It makes complete sense!

Any yet…

We continue to treat Digital Citizenship as discrete units in school.  

We rarely explore social media within the context of the classroom in order to support the nuanced understanding of etiquette, usage, etc…that can only come with using tools in authentic and meaningful ways.

We also tend to block sites that may be problematic which makes a guided and contextual approach to digital citizenship problematic at best or worse yet, becomes about teaching kids how to circumvent firewalls.  This passage from Participatory Cultures in a Networked World reinforces my own feelings about this:

“[B]locking sites perpetuates risk as it ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own. Many young people lack opportunities to learn how to use new media tools effectively and appropriately. Not just that, but a reliance on blocking sends the message that sites and tools important to students have little to nothing to contribute to intellectual pursuits. (Jenkins, Ito, boyd, 2016, pg 16)

As much as the thought of encountering an inappropriate image in front of an entire class instils dread in me, I know that at least a safe classroom environment is less problematic that that child encountering that image on their own device…a fact we definitely need to address with parents!

Can kids learn about self-regulation and what a healthy balance of online and offline looks like if we ask students to leave electronic devices in their lockers?

Do kids really understand what appropriate commenting looks like without extending and practicing this skill with explicit instruction and practice with an authentic audience?

Can kids really understand intellectual property if we don’t have them explore Creative Commons licencing for their own creations which they post for a widespread audience?

If we only focus on the fear narrative, will students recognize the positive potential of connecting online?

It is true that many teachers don’t feel comfortable enough to be the “expert” when it comes to modelling the use of social media, but teachers know their curriculum well and most importantly know how to pose the right questions, which is arguably a more important skill than answering questions anyway.

Teaching kids about the online world needs to be an organic and contextual process guided by an adult who can ask the right questions.

Student Voice and Digital Citizenship

Students need to part of the Digital Citizenship conversation.  In as much as we talk about student voice, I often find it missing when it comes to practice.  Whatever table I am sitting at, I always invite students to it to give their thoughts and opinions.  Check out how students contributed to the solution during our Yik Yak episode here.

That’s why I am so excited about  @Digcitkids,  Digital Citizenship for kids by kids. It is created by  a 4th grader  with the help of his mom Marialice  who is as passionate about bringing student voice and student digital leadership into our schools as I am.

Be sure to watch the Digcitkids website (which literally just went live in time for this post!!) as it develops and grows. The idea around Digcitkids is to provide an opportunity to amplify student voice and to promote students as digital leaders  k-12. The student and/or classroom ambassador program provides an opportunity for students from around the world to get involved in creating and sharing content and will allow students to participate in monthly challenges.

Curran wanted to start digcitkids as a way to address the conversation about digital access & connected learning opportunities for all students.  Plus, after his Ted talk he didn’t understand why he was the only elementary aged student talking about the topic and still doesn’t understand why educators wait until students are in high school to highlight student voice.   More about Curran and his quest here.

He presented the idea during Edcamp Global on July 30 at 7 am.

Other resources for teachers and leaders

Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools

Created by Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt in collaboration with a larger working group, this is perhaps my favourite resource.  It aligns with my thinking about situating learning of using social media in context and is a comprehensive, thoughtful and thorough approach. It is framed around Mike Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship  I also really appreciate the guides found within the document.


The OSAPAC Digital Citizenship resource is an excellent and comprehensive resource created for Ontario teachers and leaders but which is useful to any educator.  Our District used it as one of the key resources for its Digital Discipleship framework.  The resource is grounded in research and has practical and positive lesson plans.  It is divided up into both elementary and secondary around the following themes:


Common Sense Media

Common Sense media offers a continuum of skills offered by topic beginning from kindergarten to grade 12. Lessons are available as PDF downloads, as well as Nearpod lessons, and iBooks (for purchase) for an agnostic experience for students. They are organized in the following way:

Common Sense Media


Media Smarts is a Canadian resource for digital and media literacy and is grounded on ongoing national research on Canadian children and teens and their experiences with networked technologies.  The resources are relevant to any educator.  They use the following framework:

Media Smarts 1


IKeepSafe is a non-profit organization which adopts a global citizen approach. ” It contends that modern technologies like telephones, television, and most of all, the Internet, allow for a global society where individuals can access information from around the world—in real time—despite being thousands of miles from the source of the content (Searson et al, 2015).  This is how they organize their topics.

iKeepSafe Digital Citizenship

ISTE Standards for Students

In the newly revised standards put out by the International Society. It is useful as a point of reference for educators.

Digital Citizenship ISTE


Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Couros, A., & Hildebrandt, K. (2015). Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools. Retrieved from http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/11/83322-DC%20Guide%20-%20ENGLISH%202.pdf

Jenkins, H., Itō, M., & boyd, d. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. Wiley.

Searson, M., Hancock, M., Soheil, N., & Shepherd, G. (2015). Digital citizenship within global contexts. Education and Information Technologies, 20(4), 729-741. doi:10.1007/s10639-015-9426-0

Rethinking Student (Digital) Leadership and Digital Citizenship

In our increasingly digital and connected world, it is imperative that we teach our children to be responsible citizens–both online and face to face.  Online*, this means that they share appropriate stories and ideas with friends and family, give credit where credit is due, treat others with respect and report inappropriate behaviour.  All of these things contribute to having a positive digital online presence.  But while Digital Citizenship is about being a good citizen online Digital Leadership goes beyond this.  Here is the post in which I clarify this thinking.


When I first thought about this idea, defined here by George Couros , and then Sylvia Duckworth and I collaborated to visualized this idea, I looked at them as somewhat distinct from one another. Yet the more I meet some of these amazing student leaders who use technology to share learning, promote important causes, etc*… , and the more I see students engaged in some powerful connected learning, I recognize that perhaps it isn’t a linear list afterall.  This is what I’m now thinking (perhaps I’ll see if Sylvia has a better way to visualize this!).

Rethinking Digital Leadership

And perhaps Digital Citizenship envelops or circles the whole thing??

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Digital Citizenship really needs to come first ? When I consider of some of some of the fear-mongering lessons and messages we give students without a balanced positive slant,  I really believe that these lessons should  (or need to) coincide with opportunities for digital leadership rather than be separated from them. We are kind of doing it wrong if we have a Digital Citizenship continuum in isolation from building in opportunities to learn in the space via connected experiences.  Check out this post by Andrew Campbell which also reinforces this idea.

I am thinking of this exciting project,  initiated by Calliope (founders Jennifer Williams & Fran Siracusa) of which I am honoured to be a part.

Inspire Passion via Online Collaboration

Students are inspired by Kharishma Baghani, a young Kenyan student who invented an inexpensive water filtration system and connect with her via Google Hangouts on Air (Stay tuned for lots more opportunities to do this live). Here is the GHOA with St. Cecilia School in Florida:

Students contribute their ideas to the collaborative Padlet.

Both of these activities provide opportunities for students to learn about ethical and courteous ways to communicate online (which should be an extension of how to cooperate and communicate face to face in the classroom).  Also, an explicit connection can be made to show how effectively Karishma is marketing the project, Matone de Chiwit (Drops of Life), and how well she is using social media Twitter and Facebook to promote awareness about her cause.

Teach Digital Citizenship with a Call to Action

As students learn more about this topic (through research), get to know and be inspired by Karishma, they are then encouraged to brainstorm ways in which they can use social media, and their own creativity to share their learning and promote awareness about water scarcity.

They will CREATE posters, podcasts, public service announcements, etc… And in this creation and sharing, there is the opportunity to talk about creation and credit of sources, of ways to communicate a message powerfully, of what information is private, how a message might be misconstrued on social media, how to use tone and persuasive techniques effectively. Any tool that is used for creation or sharing can be explicitly talked about (privacy settings, terms of use, audience, etc…) These lessons become authentic and in-the moment.

If students are under 13, the ability to share via a class Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account can provide a powerful opportunity to recognize the power social media holds, while ensuring that students are not only in a guided environment, but that you are not breaching terms of service age restrictions.  If students are over 13, they should be using their own names and developing their own online presence, with continued guidance and support from the teacher.

AND when communicating this process with parents, they will be able to see their children inspired to help others and using social media ethically and responsibly to do this!

This is my current thinking.

You may argue that this is what a student leader (remove digital) looks like and I would say, absolutely EXCEPT today any leader needs to know how to make use of the digital realm.  You may also consider that not every student needs to or has to feel like they need to change the world, as Dean Shareski suggests here.  I would say that students should be given lots and varied opportunities to be inspired by others and to know that they can if they choose to.

What am I missing?  I would LOVE to have you challenge my thinking or present alternative points of view as I continue to flesh out my ideas about this important topic!

And of course, if you are interested in joining the Our Blue Earth project, please contact me, Fran Siracusa, or Jennifer Williams!

*The italicized statements were added after reading Stepan’s comment below.


Learning with George Couros

Yik Yak: What you should know, what you can do if you need to, and why it’s complicated.

A few days ago, a friend talked to me about YikYak.  I had heard of this before but had never really checked it out.  I knew that it was a platform for potential cyberbullying because The Bully Free Alliance of York Region of which I am a member, has spoken openly about the potential danger of the app which operates on the promise of anonymity.  But, when we looked at the app that afternoon the only thing that stood out was, “Poop is poop spelled backwards.”  I had no idea that one day later, I would lose sleep over some of the posts on the app.

What is Yik Yak?

Yik Yak is a social media app where users can “yak” anonymously. As is the case with other social media, the app in and of itself is not “bad”.  One student I talked to about it said she liked to see what students at different universities were saying on campus. Yik Yak does, in fact, have pretty explicit rules about its use, but the lure of anonymity makes it fertile ground for mean-spirited individuals to engage in offensive behaviour.

The premise is that you sign up for this service, enable location services, and then you can get a live feed of what everyone within a 1.5 Km radius is saying around you–completely anonymously.  Few, if any adults are in the space, so you can imagine what might happen.

If you disapprove of a post, you can “downvote,” but if you can “upvote” it as well. The up and down votes cancel each other out.  If there are 5 “down votes” the message will disappear.  The messages with the most “upvotes” rise to the top.

There has been much written about the app in the US. At USC, one editor urges that we get rid of Yik Yak completely.  Diana Graber of the Huffington Post has an interesting post about it, as does the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey, “How do you solve a problem like Yik Yak?”

At one of our schools, YikYak got completely out of hand the other day.  And though some students would “downvote” comments so they disappeared within minutes, there were a plethora of offensive comments posted with several “upvotes”.

Students and teachers who were targeted were completely demoralized and upset. Understandably, the teachers and administrators who found out about it wanted IT to shut it down and I in truth, as I worried about the welfare of students targeted, in that moment I did not disagree.

What we learned about Yik Yak and inappropriate use

A more effective mechanism, we learned, is to have YikYak apply a geofence  to suspend the account if there is evidence that there are posts made by minorities or that the app is being used inappropriately.  This is what would appear if the account was suspended:

Yik Yak worked with administration to ensure that a geofence was put up–though this process takes anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days.  These steps  may provide support for administrators or Guidance Counsellors who notice that YikYak is being used offensively:

                                                                                                                                                                              (emphasis added)
Here is the contact information for Yik Yak Support http://www.yikyakapp.com/ in case you need it.

A few other things Yik Yak told us:

-if a post is flagged multiple times, it is sent to our moderation team. If you flag a post, the user who created it will not know that you flagged their post, however, if they are suspended, they will receive a notification about their suspension.

-Yik Yak cannot disclose any user information without the proper documents from law officials.

The federal Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq., restricts Yik Yak’s disclosure of user account information without the lawful consent of the account holder or unless authorized by a properly issued warrant, court order, or subpoena. As a result, Yik Yak can only respond to requests for user account information that are received directly from a law enforcement agency pursuant to appropriate legal process. If you are aware of an emergency situation or other criminal activity, you should immediately contact your local law enforcement officials.
Guidelines for law enforcement officials seeking information about Yik Yak user accounts are available on the website at: [ http://www.yikyakapp.com/legal/ ]http://www.yikyakapp.com/legal/. Please have law enforcement contact us following these guidelines.

What the school did…

Administrators let Guidance and Chaplaincy know about the app and the comments made on it as it was clear that some students would need the support. There was an announcement made and a few teachers posted in the app, which in some ways made it worse.

The principal called for an assembly of the President’s Council (the students who represent each of the Councils in the school), where he asked them what they thought should be done to address the situation.  As in any situation like this, often the students posting offensive things are in the minority, and with the situation out of hand, it was clear that these students wanted to ensure that they became part of the solution.

What the students said…

So much more than we could have anticipated as they engaged in some genuine dialogue about what could be done.  Here’s a summary:

  • Many students implored us to shut the app down completely
  • Other students argued that if you shut the app down,  there are other apps that operate in the same way (they referenced Whisper and Ask FM)
  • Others made the comment that if the Board blocked the app, students would just use their own data.
  • One student made us aware of the “flagging” mechanism which can only be seen if you go into the comment itself.
  • Others suggested that they spread the word and go into the app to post silly comments and to counter-act some of the negative ones
  • One young woman suggested that teachers be more vigilant with the no cell-phone in class policy.
  • Many students wanted to into their classes and talk about the issue with them
  • Most of them agreed that the week before, there had been nothing objectionable on the app, and that most likely next week it would be not newsworthy again.

In the end, the student action plan was that while school administration and IT worked on blocking the app, students would..

1.  Flag posts which were inappropriate and identified users
2.  Post on the app in more positive ways, ensuring that anyone who was targeted was supported and/or complimented and encourage their Councils to do so as well.
3.  Speak to their classmates about the situation.

Administration empowered the students to address the problem and the students took on the responsibility willingly and with much empathy, but there will need to be much healing and support for the school community as a result of this incident.


What I did as a parent…

Being so affected by this incident, I got our family (my two teenage daughters) to download the app and we read some of the posts together.  There was nothing really objectionable.  In fact, many of the posts in our geographic area were silly:
“I’m still scared of thunder and I’m 18”
“It’s awesome to have really good conversations with my dog”

I asked them what they would do if do if they saw something mean or inappropriate.  My older daughter said she would downvote it so it would disappear as quickly as possible “so the person wouldn’t feel bad.”  Now she could have just been saying that because we were having this conversation. But we were having the conversation.
And then she said, “This is kind of stupid actually”…and deleted the app.

But yesterday, my daughter re-installed the app and I was horrified.

My inside voice screamed, “How dare you?  Delete that app right now!” My outside voice calmly asked why she would do that when she knew about the horrible things that had happened in the app and that clearly I was so affected by the events that happened.  Her response to me was interesting. She said that in our area the posts are silly and funny.  She said, “Don’t worry mum, if I see something inappropriate, I’ll downvote it or report it.”  She even asked me to look at it with her.

And despite every fibre in my being that was screaming at me to get her to delete it, I didn’t (for now) because the posts in our area really aren’t inappropriate.   Will I be extra diligent about checking up on her in that space? Absolutely.  But, letting her keep the app says I trust her and I want her to keep talking to me about the world into which I have so little insight as an adult.  Besides, now I know exactly what to do if there is something inappropriate or dangerous happening.

A Very Complicated Issue

So often we think of something like this as very black and white, but there are so many layers here to consider.

One of the students with whom we spoke was very forthright in his comments to us about how adults sometimes oversimplify things like this.  While we tend to speak about “good students” and “bad students”posting, he thoughtfully suggested that a very good student who might be needing to vent, might use Yik Yak as a mechanism to do so and that to categorize “good” and “bad” is not entirely accurate or fair.

And if your adult voice is emphatic that having an online place to vent is just stupid and dangerous, you need to read Dana Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, which might make you rethink the idea of how students today view privacy in their networked lives.

And then there is the issue of blocking apps by IT.  There is no question that this app needed to be blocked immediately in this case to ensure the safety and well being of staff and students being targeted.  And yet there is lingering doubt in my mind that blocking all objectionable apps is a real solution; a sentiment echoed by more than one of the students.  In this case, isn’t knowledge power? Wouldn’t an administrator, like to be able to go onto the app to see what activity is happening that might put students in jeopardy without it being blocked from view because in reality students would still be able to do all of this on their own networks?  Might we need to rethink this stance in order to understand the realm of social media a little better as educators?

Then again, if we don’t block an app like this, is it reasonable to suggest that Administrators can be aware of and check all of the apps out there that might potentially cause this much damage? Who has time for that?  This issue alone took up the full attention of the admin team when we know that there are so many other issues that are important to the well being of students in a school.

Another issue that came up is to enforce the “no cell-phone in class” rule.  Does that really solve the problem? Everything I do in my job encourages the use of technology in class as it can provide so many opportunities for creativity and accessibility.  I’m not sure I could even teach a class without students using their cellphones for something (very few of our classrooms are in computer labs). This knee-jerk reaction does not seem to me the right course of action as it doesn’t really even address the issue.

George Couros’ who had just spent some time at our School Board, also really got me thinking about Digital Leadership  How can we better enpower our students? At what age do we start?  How can we better tap into student voice to help us navigate this new frontier?

And the administrator at the school posed some very interesting questions as well.  What are the legal supports in place?  Is the solution petition the government to make Bill 13C more robust to include comments as well as images?  You only need to look at the controversy surrounding this Bill to know that there is no easy answer here.

Isn’t the bigger question, beyond technology and apps? How do we teach empathy to students and an understanding that an anonymous post can be just as hurtful–if not more so?  Shouldn’t teaching students Catholic Character mean we teach them to be the same person online and face to face?

I have invited the students from President’s Council to write a guest blog-post which I am hoping they will do.   I welcome your feedback and the sharing of your own experiences.