Q&A: How We Created a Student-Led Digital Citizenship Program

Learn how one district created a student-led digital citizenship program
Contributed By

Robert Schuetz

Technology Coordinator for Palatine High School, IL

Q&A: How We Created a Student-Led Digital Citizenship Program

Posted in Community | October 07, 2019

Tell us about your district, Township High School District 211, and the role you play in it.

Township High School District 211 is made up of five high schools serving approximately 12,500 students from several communities in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. One of my primary responsibilities as Technology Department Chair at Palatine High School is to support our 1:1 learning environment. Our stakeholders—students, their parents, and our staff—have indicated digital citizenship and digital literacies are essential facets of modern learning. We want to encourage our students to engage with positivity and not share or post something that could jeopardize future opportunities. “Share and Care” is prioritized over “Lock and Block.” Beyond digital interactions, we encourage all of our students and staff to be kind, both face-to-face and online.

Both within the Schoology community and on social media you’ve been an advocate for digital citizenship. Why is this topic so important to you?

I’ve found social networks to be extremely beneficial to my learning, both personally and professionally. Engaging in the world-wide-web has its benefits and challenges. As Erik Qualman mentioned during his recent keynote address at Schoology NEXT, “privacy no longer exists. 90% of American two-year-olds have a digital shadow.” My own children have experienced some of the pleasures and pitfalls of interacting on social media. I think it’s important for adults to help young people make responsible choices when they are online. Part of this is modeling, other parts are about providing information and guidance. This means adults need to become educated about social media and digital interactions.

On a grander scale, research shared by Steven Pinker indicates we are living in the most peaceful time in our history. Are humans becoming more knowledgeable, more understanding because of our ever-increasing web connectedness? I like to think so.

How does Township High School District 211 approach digital citizenship?

Our district places an emphasis on growing the whole child, preparing students for life during and after their school years. Digital citizenship is just one aspect of the wellness component within our Student Readiness Plan. Much of the data within our student app is self-reported. We want students to have a voice in their growth, make educated decisions, monitor their progress, and reflect on the outcomes of their actions. We bolster this wellness education by offering online digital responsibility courses and facilitating school-based Digital Democracy Teams.

You mentioned the “Digital Democracy Team.” Why should students be involved in a district’s digital citizenship efforts? What do they bring to the table?

Our Digital Democracy Teams provide opportunities for students to explore social media issues, develop leadership skills, and contribute to the betterment of our schools. 

We’re finding a few significant advantages to having students lead our DigCit efforts. First, in many cases, our students are more in-tune with the issues impacting their peers. Second, when it comes to communication, our students are more likely to attend to messages created by other students. Third, we’ve learned the term “digital citizenship” to be a bit of a misnomer, a low bar in many respects. When you look at the second ISTE standard for students, Common Sense Media’s DigCit Scope and Sequence, or examples shared by Schoology Ambassador, Rachel Murat’s, Political Science classes, you’ll see a consistent expectation of students contributing positively on the web. Our Digital Democracy Teams are charged with encouraging and nurturing digital contributors at our schools. As many of us know, social media can be a nasty place, our kids are trying to drown out the negative with positive messages about school, learning, and their community.

Can you expand on the three online courses that students have the option to complete for digital citizenship? 

D211 embarked on a 1:1 learning adventure seven years ago. We hosted parent workshops to help families understand the changes coming to academic endeavors as a result of distributing iPads to all of our students. Credit our students’ parents for asking, “Is there a training manual or guide for students?” Our leadership has equated this to students receiving a “rules of the road” manual when obtaining their driving permit. Keith Sorensen and I developed what was initially a 9th-grade gamified course built within Schoology using Common Sense Media’s digital citizenship materials. Other schools around the country have created similar programs using these same resources, so we’re not breaking new ground here. 

The initial freshman course was expanded to include a fresh-looking 10th-grade course, and this year, we’re releasing a course for our 11th graders. Student feedback has led to course refinements, deletions, and additions. Students can receive tangible incentives in addition to obtaining greater accessibility on their academically focused devices. We also wanted to expose our students to a fully online, self-paced learning experience. As you would expect, our courses cover topics such as; intellectual property, digital identity, ethical online behavior, and online privacy and security. The content is a mixture of readings, videos, and discussions with an emphasis on current events that our students find personally impactful.

You mentioned the digital citizenship courses are optional. Why not make them required? And what benefits or differences have you seen from students who have taken the courses vs. students who haven’t?

With the recent introduction of our Student Readiness Plan, the expectation is that all of our students complete their Digital Quest courses in order to satisfy the requirements necessary to fully complete their wellness component. Although it’s inappropriate to assume cause and effect, we have found a correlation between students who’ve completed the courses and a lower rate of discipline referrals related to electronics and technology. Some of our teachers have commented favorably about students who’ve completed the courses having a better understanding of concepts like copyright, fair use, and intellectual property. Students who’ve completed their Digital Quest courses have provided helpful feedback. The most frequent comments from students involve learning more about digital security, digital identity, and digital literacy. Additionally, our students feel better able to use the tech tools we provide them. Submissions collected from students will be used to improve future iterations of our courses. So, while the courses aren’t required, we’ve heard the content is helpful and relevant. A majority of our students and their parents have found value in completing the Digital Quest courses.

How have you communicated High School District 211’s digital citizenship efforts to parents as well as the broader community? And how have they responded?

We create Schoology accounts for all of our students’ parents. We enroll all of our students in our Digital Quest courses. Information is shared via email, Schoology updates, and social media posts. Because the parents’ Schoology accounts are linked to their children’s accounts they are able to view all of the academic and co-curricular activities posted in the LMS. They are able to view the materials and activities within the DQ courses. How about that for a DigCit conversation starter at the dinner table? 

We also host “Parent Universities” at our schools. These are workshops where participants can learn more about the programs and services offered at our school. Through surveys and conversations, we’ve gained insight into how parents and community members receive information. Having consistent places for messaging is important, having a central hub for virtual interactions is also important. As simple as it sounds, just having a consistent hashtag has allowed our stakeholders to connect and engage more than ever before. I like to think of our #onePHS hashtag as the school’s bat signal. Not only does the hashtag serve as a cultural moniker, but it also designates an online meeting place and invites the telling and sharing of our school’s stories. Palatine High School is 125 years old, we have many great stories!

Think back to the early phases of building your digital citizenship program. What are some lessons you learned the hard way or things you would have done differently?

Digital responsibility is a process, not a destination. There have been bumps in the road, no doubt. It would be fantastic if 100% of our students completed all three Digital Quest modules, but that’s not our current reality. Completion rates have grown from an initial thirty-three percent to fifty percent, and most recently sixty-seven percent. It’s taken a few course iterations to obtain a smooth and seamless completion and reporting process. This has been accomplished through self-scoring assessments and completion rules. The quizzes and assignments built into the courses are designed as assessments for knowledge, not assessments of knowledge. They’re learning activities. Students have suggested enhancing the gamification structures to generate additional interest and commitment towards completion. Integrating our SIS with our LMS from the beginning would make our course enrollments and management much easier. We’re working towards integration now. 

Having gone through this process already, what advice can you provide other schools or districts looking to start a digital citizenship program?

Start with conversations with your stakeholders, what do they value, what are their shared experiences, what are the goals of implementing a digital citizenship education program? Habit number two, as Stephen Covey suggested years ago, begin with the end in mind. What are the desired outcomes of your digital citizenship efforts? 

Involve students in your process as soon as feasible. In the earliest versions of our courses, we would enroll thousands of students and troubleshoot issues along the way. More recently, a few of our digital democracy students serve as beta testers, going through the course and identifying any errors, or issues related to scoring and completion rules. 

We’ve also learned to publish sections of the course throughout the year. There are occasional surprises and hidden incentives for the students along the way. This dash of mystery adds to some anticipation and perseverance for our learners. 

I’m not saying we have all the answers, but as I mentioned before, we’re honoring digital responsibility as a learning process. Coincidently, Schoology has consistently added features and enhancements along the way. In many respects, we have grown together. We do what we can to incorporate the newest tools into our Digital Quest courses. In some respects, our DQ students serve as beta testers for the rest of our users. That’s a win-win!

It is a common saying on EDU social media, “digital citizenship is everyone’s responsibility.” At District 211 we have learned there is a lot of truth in this statement. Citizenship isn’t enough, I think this begins with each person committing to being a positive digital contributor. Sharing and caring!

Join the Conversation