From Facepainting to Feedback: An Approach to Digital Citizenship

While serving as an “ambassador” for the North Carolina Digital Learning Competencies, I had the opportunity to listen to educators exchange thoughts, dreams, and yes, fears about the use of technology in our schools.  Many of these conversations centered on the topic of Digital Citizenship, the second Focus Area of the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers.  So let’s chat a little bit about the role of educators and social media.  One of the competencies in this Focus Area asks teachers to, “Engage in responsible and professional digital social interaction.”  Hmmm…not quite ready to take on social media with students?  No worries!  There are plenty of things that teachers and teacher leaders can do to both meet this competency and to prepare our students to be good citizens!

Susan Bearden, a leader in Instructional Technology, is quoted as saying, “What if, instead of avoiding social media in school altogether or focusing solely on the negative aspects, we teach students how to leverage it to connect in positive ways and build a digital footprint that reflects their best selves…”.  This creates a powerful opportunity for educators!  But how do we begin?

Let’s start with the concept of a “Digital Footprint”.  Recently, I’ve been hearing this referred to more and more as a “Digital Tattoo”.  This shift represents the notion that the decision an individual makes to share something to a global audience (like social media), is a permanent decision – like getting a tattoo.  A reaction to this may be one of protection.  If you don’t want to make a mistake, just don’t put anything out there!  However, the reality is, we each do have a digital footprint or tattoo now, and with this reality, it is important to teach our students how to create a positive mark on the world.

My own children don’t have tattoos.  But they have certainly seen them, and they’ve each expressed their interest in them.  As a parent, I did not rush them out to secure one immediately.  But I also did not forbid them to look at them or think about them.  Rather, I agreed to first face-painting, and later temporary tattoos.  Through these moves, my kids have had the chance to “express themselves”, and we have engaged in conversations about which designs might represent them well, and which ones might make either them or others less comfortable.

Educators can use this same approach when considering how to “engage in responsible and professional digital social interaction”.  This process can occur in three phases:

  1. Educator participation in a digital PLN
  2. Intentional use of instructional tools that replicate important aspects of social media
  3. Purposeful responses to student use of these tools that include feedback on both academic content and behavior (citizenship)

Educator participation in a digital PLN

It is going to be nearly impossible to guide students, without engaging in the experiences we are preparing them for.  This is one of many reasons why it is so important for educators to create their own professional learning network (PLN).  Professional Twitter accounts, educational Facebook Groups, and/or Google+ Communities are all excellent ways to build and grow a PLN.  Once active, teachers and teacher leaders can discover the value of sharing stories of success, exchanging tricks of the trade, and of LEARNING in this ever-changing environment.  Simultaneously, teachers learn “norms” – the do’s and don’ts, likes and dislikes, feel-goods and feel-not-so-goods that one encounters through digital social interaction.  These experiences can then contribute to a teacher’s strategic instructional plan for digital citizenship.

Intentional Use of Instructional Tools

The phrase, “digital social interaction” makes our minds fly right to Twitter and other

Cumberland County principals interact through Flipgrid during a training session for the NC Digital Learning Competencies.

social media outlets that we either don’t want to engage in with our students or that policy dictates not participating in with students.  There are, however, classroom friendly instructional tools that allow us to safely model how to responsibly interact using technology.  Google Slides, Tackk, and Flipgrid are examples of tools that allow students to create and share content with their teachers and classmates.  When modeling with these tools, teachers can emphasize the importance of crediting the ideas and words of others, of the importance of attention to details, and of the appeal of originality.  As students practice these skills within a safe classroom environment, they are truly learning skills that can transfer directly to any situation they encounter with digital social interactions.


Purposeful Responses to Students’ Use of Digital Social Interaction Tools

Feedback is an integral component of any learning process, and the feedback that a teacher can provide to a student around his/her digital social interactions is critical!  This feedback should reference both the content that students contribute and their behaviors as evidenced through the interactive tool.  

When using Google Slides, teachers can use the Comment feature to provide this important guidance.  Since Google Slides are collaborative, all students can learn from a teacher’s feedback on any individual slide.  Also, the teacher’s feedback can serve as a model for students to replicate as they begin to consider peer’s responses and utilize the Comment feature themselves for peer review.  Tackk offers a Comment Stream where teachers and students can post thoughts and reply to the ideas of others.  Similarly, Flipgrid provides an option for viewers to react to each video reflection. Teachers have editing rights to any instructional experience they create for students using these tools, so if inappropriate content is shared, students can experience the real-world consequence of having their content removed from the platform.

Teachers have always played an important role in the shaping lives, and today this includes introducing students to appropriate and responsible ways to interact with others in our digital world.  Through personal experience, modeling, and feedback, teachers can truly help students “leverage” their social interactions “to connect in positive ways and build a digital footprint that reflects their best selves”.