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Unleashing the Power of the Digital Universe

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There exists a great opportunity to teach the adults and the children why to think carefully about their digital footprints. The hacking of emails and information about our elected officials is a reminder that the digital environment is never fully private. Schools are the place for children to learn this. It is not a time to tighten up and restrict access. It is a time to educate ... students, teachers, leaders and parents.

Open Access
Terms like digital commerce, communication, literacy, etiquette, law, rights and responsibilities, and security are the linchpins described by digitalcitizenship.net . It is remarkable that we might expect children to know and adhere to these facets of digital life when professional adults seem not to understand them. The answer is not to limit student access within the school environment. Rather, it is to open it up and give students the experience of the digital universe with guidance and support.  We are not advocating for digital citizenship units or classes.  It is a matter of educating the educators first or at least along with the students, together. 

Not Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants
We can no longer support the idea that some educators are 'digital immigrants' or that the Internet has little to do with their work with students, parents, the community and each other. Our world is digital, our banking, our information, our communication, and our lessons in how to do, build, buy or learn something. Our students are growing up in this world, learning and communicating on their own. They may have less fear than the adults do as they venture into programs and links and videos, as they create and share, but that does not mean they are natives in that environment any more than adults are immigrants.

A Place in Schools
The access to the digital universe most certainly has a place in our schools. Our dedication to 'college and career readiness' includes a major change in the way schools use technology. Actually, the fact that we are still talking about technology reveals the need for a change. Was there such a fuss about pencils and research libraries and telephones and letters?  We think not.  But the change in the way schools communicate with their public, with each other, with their students and parents, the manner in which students are invited to learn and communicate their learning can and should change. Pushing the digital environment to the side and moving forward without it does our students a serious injustice.

A Digital Divide
There exists a digital divide between some students and the adults in their world. Students enter and wander in the digital universe without guidance, discovering on their own, sharing with a child's or adolescent's mind, having both amazing and potentially dangerous experiences. In most cases, they continue to grow and learn in the pathways they discover for themselves. The digital divide grows as educators fail to bring the children along. There are children who do not know how to use the digital world for more than a text or an email or watching a show.  And yes, there are children who operate within the limits of messaging and email. As schools continue to lock down access and ignore the responsibility to educate themselves and their students, savvy students know how to access it anyway.  With smartphones in so many students' pockets, they no longer need school computers or even Wi-Fi in order to access the Internet during the school day. They have their own data plans!

Still, there are teachers and leaders who shy away from technology.  There are those who believe it is dangerous, that it eliminates real, old-fashioned face-to-face communication, that it is a distraction, and that it should be locked down in schools. This is dangerous ground on which to stand.

A Responsibility
We have a responsibility in each classroom, school, and district to be sure that students are taught, within each learning environment, how to use technology for learning, creating, sharing, and communication. For example, when a school determines the value of developing portfolios of students' work, or when documents, edits, and revisions are in a shared environment, or when students are asked to review videos and make comments, or communicate between teacher and students and each other, there are opportunities for teaching and learning about respect and responsibility, and safety. When requiring students to search, find and recommend a video teaching a concept that is being learned in class, reminders about the world in which they are searching and reaffirming the value of acting with integrity has a place. This is less in the form of a warning and more with the intention to have student think about how they want to be presented publically and forever.  Four overarching ideas:

  1. Nothing is private.  No matter the reason or intention, we have to assume anything put in writing is ultimately accessible to anyone who hacks OR anyone who has the legal recourse to request access to them.
  2. With diminishing resources, it is likely that smart schools will begin to access advanced courses or low enrollment classes online. Teachers and students will need to be agile within the digital environment and have integrity as they teach and learn in this environment.
  3. Engaging students in finding, creating, and sharing information, individually or in collaboration is a 21st century skill facilitated by the digital universe.
  4. Respect and responsibility, integrity, and service are all attributes educators aim to help develop in their students.  It is no different in the digital universe.  As a matter of fact, embracing digital citizenship within each class and each grade, the learning of these attributes is reinforced as it becomes apparent even in the world in which the student may perceive they are invisible. 

For the Advanced
If you or your school or district is advanced in this journey and secure in opening the doors and use digital communication, research, teaching, learning, reporting, and sharing, you may be ready to leap forward into learning about gaming as learning.  Or, you might have someone already knowledgeable who can open minds to the idea.  We have seen that games capture minds. The most recent example is Pokémon Go. Games are fun. Technology has allowed games to capture people not only because of their design, but because playing with others does not depend upon geography.  A game can be played (a multi-player game) with people from around the world. Games are capturing the attention of kids and adults alike. 

Games hold another lesson for educators. Author and gaming expert Lee Sheldon wrote The Multiplayer Classroom:  Designing Coursework as a Game. His introduction begins, "If you have picked up this book with the idea that it will help you to include video games in your curriculum, put it down now.  Walk away. There is nothing to see here..."  Here technology offers educators a surprising lesson.  Not advocating for classrooms to turn to video gaming for learning, Sheldon shows educators can learn how to create curriculum, teaching and learning opportunities that are as engaging as the video games many have come to dismiss.  That would be "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." 

Opening Minds and Facing Fears
The essentials are this. We cannot expect schools to be meeting the needs of our 21st century students using 20th century tools.  Closing eyes and burying heads does a disservice to today's students.  It is unintended and fueled by lack of knowledge and a bit of fear.  Opening minds, offering learning opportunities for all the adults in the learning community, celebrating risk takers, and encouraging the reluctant all will serve to help students to learn and grow as young persons with integrity and an impressive digital footprint that will serve them in the present and in the future. 

Resource:
Sheldon, E. (2012).The Multiplayer Clasroom: Designing coursework as a Game. Boston: Course Technology

Photo by ammentorp courtesy of 123rf 

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