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Digital Choices : A Journey
The future is what we make it- together, so how each of us engages in the world today and tomorrow matters.
Yesterday, I tuned in to [and then mostly listened as a panel participant] a Digital Citizenship [#DigCiz] Zoom/YouTube .Dr. Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt were the lead, and Autumm Caines, Anthippi Harou, Alex Chaucer, and Geoffrey Gevalt also participated in the panel. Kevin Hodgson added the video to Vialogues where you can listen and comment in dialogue with others here.
The main participants [Alec, Katia, Autumm], explained a digital citizenship continuum from dystopian [acceptable use/rules/filters/safety] and utopian [responsible use / reflective / proactive]. The focus on only safety and rules does not seem to transfer to responsible use in actuality. But responsibly using and reflecting on choices becomes a habit that could carry over to real situations. It’s very important to emphasize safety in any program, especially for middle to high school when many students “at risk” already behave in ways that could result in unsafe situations – knowing and practicing provides habits that help their decision-making.
“Writing is Listening”
That practice comes not from infrequent lessons, but from continuous use of online spaces and platforms during classes, building a community of learners within the classroom and around the world. Geoffrey Gevalt provided examples and stories from his Young Writers Project where fifth through high school students within the program felt the kinship of a community developed by them through self-imposed expectations and one rule: Be Respectful. Key to the program’s success is the underlying ideal forged from the writing community: “writing is listening.”
Think about that: by carefully reading and thoughtfully responding, our written words convey how we “listened” to the author’s ideas and could respond in respectful, even if disagreeing ways. Imagine if all online communities practiced being respectful and writing [creating] respectful responses. Because, as Dr. Alec Couros noted, most social media today is about “being noticed, rather than noticing.”
I was then reminded of a strategy in my classroom — of watching, discussing, and applying the two rules of improv at Pixar, as explained in the first two minutes of Randy Nelson’s talk on Collaboration:
- accept every offer
- make your partner look good
Through our own practice in wikis and blogs and comments, we discussed how we accepted ideas and responded ways to “make our partner look good.”
Ask Questions / Debate to Dialogue
Conversations in class, through Twitter, on Facebook — conversations help us build community and understand each other. In the often negative social media today, how do we make that happen? Alex Chaucer suggests we ask questions, such as:
- What do you mean by…
- Why do you feel that way?
He noted that if we shift debate to dialogue, we may build better and more positive social media communities by clarifying our own and others’ online posts. It’s a start.
Geoffrey mentioned Mimi Ito’s work from 2007 — and it’s important to note that kids today and most adults are online; it’s part of the fabric of our world. In 2011 Nathan Jurgenson explained this truth: we no longer have two separate identities: our digital world is enmeshed in our physical world. We engage in public and private [not really] spaces with global and local connections. Which is why this conversation is so important. What is citizenship today– online and off? Alec and Katia explained:
- personal responsibility — our choices to participate and how we participate
- participatory — actively involved in the community
- justice oriented — speaking up and taking action on injustice
They also brought up the idea of the tense and politically charged posts and reactions on social media in both public and private spaces. Academic freedom sounds great, but political sentiment might not be appropriate. Consider the ten students denied admission to Harvard from posts in “private” groups. Personal Responsibility: A Choice.
Personal responsibility for our actions and words is important, but is that all there is to the idea of participating in communities online and off? As I read more about participatory and social justice choices, I knew an issue existed. That social justice choice really depends on your political stance, and this plays out in the politics of social media and in my own extended family.
To understand this, read an article recommended by Alec and Katia. Westheimer and Kahne, “What Kind of Citizen: The Politics of Education for Democracy“, describe and explain the three ideas about citizenship within a political context, which also delineates a major problem evidenced in deciding programs and in content on social media.
On page two, the authors share a view that stirs arguments in our family; see if you can spot it:
- “If they’d just get a job.”
- “If they’d pull up their bootstraps”
- “They just aren’t trying”
- “If they were good, they would be rewarded”
If this is the belief, then social justice will not be an acceptable project or program for the classroom. On page four, the author’s explain the issue of participatory and social justice-minded citizens:
Also on page four was perhaps some hope:
“Democracy is a Way of Life” — it is the doing that matters. I agree with John Dewey.
As I’m reading the article and listening to the ideas of tension on social media with the panel, I wonder if our focus needs rethinking.
Many classroom teachers today now focus on developing student agency, on engaging students with choice in work and voice in ideas. We want them to explore concepts and observe carefully with a goal and standards chosen by them within the context of the curriculum and beyond. In that process, students connect with experts and other students in other classes in their school, community, and beyond in the world. And in those authentic exchanges — like the Dewey concept of learning by doing — they begin to think deeper and develop a social awareness, with modeling and lessons and practice, broadening their modes of communication, ranging from informal to formal. To engage with others, they learn “norms” of acceptable communication. And if students are good at “making their partner look good,” they build relationships and community. This is inherently a more natural way, with support, to learn what we’re calling citizenship, but really is a choice made to be successful communicating with others. It’s a choice, online or off, without the political overtones of types of digital citizenship.
Listen to the video when Geoffrey Gevalt explains how his students nudged each other to be respectful, developing their norms and their community by “listening” to their writing. We can build that into our classrooms and extend it through the projects by students.
As we consider our classroom community and the extended communities of living on this planet, how do we get along, and how do we think of our mark in the world? I’m beginning to think that a focus on Digital Identity and Digital Choices may be less controversial than Digital Citizenship. People don’t like to be told what to do; people like a choice. [But then maybe that’s a political view too????]
Bear with me. I’m thinking of collaboration and motivation. Remember Dan Pink speaks of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Choice [autonomy] to learn [master] for a purpose motivates — and to learn through connections online, students master communication and protocol to make those connections and conversations happen.
Reflection on what works or not and how to be successful next includes the process of being a citizen, or of making the choices to be successful and having a positive footprint to trace those steps and leave a mark. Isn’t this really building our character and building communities with diverse and dynamic people with whom we connect?
Sarah Honeychurch [Glascow, Scotland], Lenandlar Singh [Georgetown, Guyana], Kevin Hodgson and I began to converse on the topic of Digital Citizenship on Twitter [here and here]. Read Sarah’s post, “I am not a digital citizen and this twitter exchange. It’s an excellent discussion, including:
Yup, yup.But #digciz is talking about folk on the open web. How does citizenship apply? Membership makes sense, citizenship does not.
— Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine) June 7, 2017
Membership — do we feel we belong? It’s more personal than citizenship [and its political implications], and carries with it responsibility to those within that community.
Sarah and Stephen Downes provided these two blog posts by Stephen:
- A very good post from 1997: A Digital Nation? Really– it hints at today’s issues on social media.
- On today’s topic “What Kind of (Digital) Citizen?” which included this gem:
— Sheri Edwards (@grammasheri) May 23, 2017
We are online. We choose our groups, our neighborhoods so to speak. The web is everywhere for connecting, banking, purchasing, news, community, etc. There’s so much to know, attend to, analyze, and consider. I think focusing on Digital Citizenship is too narrow, and brings with it the baggage of political views and top-down expectations. More important is web literacy [#webliteracy and #teachtheweb ] through which the goals of digital citizenship can develop as we learn and master the web together.
At MozLearn, one activity is “Internet Health:”
What is Internet health? What makes the internet healthy or unhealthy? Help your learners make sense of ways to support an open, accessible, and healthy Internet for all with these introductory lessons about key issues facing us online.
We need to consider:
How do we want the web to look, and what is our part in that?
Web Literacy and Community
Perhaps it is time to join forces and get behind that force that still fights for an open web: Mozilla and Web Literacy. with a focus on 21st Century skills by considering that “voluntary cooperation” that Stephen Downes suggested. In reality, we are individuals who want agency in our lives, and we are part of many communities that we navigate in actions that help us connect and succeed or the opposite. The people around us will think in those political left and right terms, and we must accept those differences. If we focus on voluntary choices by our students to learn and act in authentic communities, we support their agency as well as their learning. We help them in being web literate, building a positive identity, and learning choices that lead to success. Doing literacy promotes deliberate and deeper habits.
How do we do this without just focusing on digital citizenship?
Bonnie Stewarts blog post, “Digital Identities and Digital Citizenship: Houston We Have a Problem” includes a SlideShare that is wealth of thinking about web literacy, community, and identity. Think about these slides:
How do we survive and move the web towards positive participation? Engage and support students in practice and collaboration. Build in the conversations that help students choose the participation and protocol that will work for them in positive ways.
Because while we’re connecting on the open web, we’re being web literate as creators, problem-solvers, communicators, and collaborators. We’re critically thinking about the fake news and negative responses and considering how we really want the world to be — and what we will do to make that happen.
As we navigate the open web, creating and connecting, we leave traces back to us and signals of who we are. How do we want to be known?
Understand the structures; work together to build structures for our communities, which brings me to the theory of connected learning, of which Mimi Ito introduced me.
From Connected Learning Alliance, which combines all these ideas:
We are social creatures; we are unique creatures;we are better together; together we build our future.
I think digital citizenship is really:
Web Literacy + Digital Choices + Digital Communities = Digital Identity
Literacy + Choices + Communities = Identity
Web Literacy + Digital Choices + Digital Communities = Digital Identity
Literacy + Choices + Communities = Identity
A journey, together
American Educational Research Journal. Volume 41 No. 2, Summer 2004, 237-269 Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J. What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy
I participated in a couple sketch challenges in March and April, so I’ve already sketched on these topics which are so important to the world, and important to me. Hence, all the sketches were ready!
Geeky Gramma ~~
Retired Middle School Language Arts Teacher ~~
Writer and Thinker