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Lessons on “CyberCivics” Too Important To Ignore

TeachMeMy daughter, who is busy working on her college applications, received this message from her high school counselor yesterday:

“Just received an email from the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC)… a friendly reminder that colleges are reading your social media.”

Today, in addition to having sky-high GPA’s and equally impressive test scores, kids also need to have squeaky clean “digital footprints.” Unfortunately, by 12th grade that “digital footprint” might as well be laid in cement, it’s permanent and it started taking shape the day they posted their first picture on Facebook.

Last week I introduced the concept of the “digital footprint” to my sixth grade CyberCivics class. They are just starting to use social media as a tool to define themselves to the world. Pretending they had to hire someone for a job at their school, students conducted “background checks” on potential candidates by studying each “applicant’s” social media accounts. Although they later discovered these weren’t real applicants, they learned through this exercise that everything you say and post online, and everything other people say and post about you, becomes part of your “digital footprint.” This is the same digital footprint that college admissions officers (and potential employers) will potentially see and judge them by; the same digital footprint that will help shape their future.

I’m fortunate to be able to spend an hour per week with grades 6-8 teaching Cyber Civics. We cover important topics like online reputations, online safety, copyright, plagiarism, cyberbullying, and more. According to research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, our kids are spending more time online than in school or with their families. So I was surprised to read in the L.A. Times earlier this week, this concern posed about teaching students lessons on “copyright”:

“While it’s certainly a worthy topic of discussion with students, I’m sure some teachers would have a concern that adding anything of any real length to an already packed school day would take away from the basic curriculum that they’re trying to get through now,” said Frank Wells, spokesman for the California Teachers Assn.

That was a concern at our school too, however in the three years of the Journey School pilot program, the school’s API (Academic Performance Index) score has risen steadily and significantly, despite the loss of traditional “academic” time. It’s also given the administrator more time too, as incidences of “cyberbullying” and such that used to find their way into his office a few times per week have all but virtually disappeared since we implemented the program.

It’s ironic that the prevailing attitude is that there’s no time to educate kids about their digital behaviors. Especially when it’s these very behaviors that could prevent them from getting a higher education in the first place.

Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M [superscript 2]: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Diana Graber, who has an M.A. in Media Psychology and Social Change, is Co-Founder of CyberWise, a Digital Hub that helps busy adults understand and use digital tools. Diana also teaches CyberCivics at Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, and is Adjunct Faculty of the new Media Psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.


Categories: Digital Citizenship, Educational Issues

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