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At school, we’ve introduced “Blogfolios” in Grade 4 and 5. These are, in fact, WordPress blogs with the dual purpose of providing a blogging platform and a digital portfolio platform. They have been received well with teachers and students, but we’re just waiting for the inevitable parent inquiry about the publicness of them, the comparing students issue, or the spelling mistake / grammar error comments. So I pre-wrote our response:

 

At **** we believe in the power of technology to bring people together. And it’s not just us; the research literature is unequivocal. Children learn best when the significant people in their lives – parents, teachers, friends, and other family and community members – work together to encourage and support their development. With current technology access, there has never been a better opportunity to connect in-school learning to this wider network of significant others.

 

In Grade 4 and 5, the platform we use to enable these connections are individual student “Blogfolios”. Blogfolios are semi-public: they are not indexed by search engines, but are accessible via unique URL. This allows students and teachers to extend classroom discussions, feedback, formative evaluations, and reflections into a digital environment, and continue the collaborative, social learning which the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate highlights.

 

The semi-public nature of the Blogfolios allows significant others to enter into the learning loop: parents, grandparents in other countries, extended family, and friends.

 

In classrooms, we work a lot with students about how to give effective feedback, appropriate responses to the learning of others, and how everyone is different and at different stages of the learning journey. We celebrate diversity and acknowledge everyone has different goals, and that learning will look different from one student to the next.

 

We expect the same level of responsible, appropriate behavior with the stakeholders students and teachers invite into the learning loop (parents, grandparents, friends etc). In class, we do not compare our own learning with others, we are not negative, we do not judge. For parents and grandparents interacting with Blogfolios at home, we ask the same to be true: only have positive, supportive learning conversations over Blogfolios. These conversations will constitute powerful role-modeling of inclusive and respective ideals, and reinforce the kinds of conversations students are engaging in at school.

 

Furthermore, students are learning first-hand how the interactions in digital environments are no different than the interactions in real environments; just because something is online does not mean you can act in a different way. This prepares students well for their growing interactions in digital spaces in their own lives through the development of digital citizenship competencies and skills. Our Blogfolios are sites to practise safe sharing, online interaction, ethics, and the building of a positive digital footprint – key skills to have as students enter their teenage years.

 

We believe strongly in the power of Blogfolios for the holistic development of students in our increasingly digital world.

What I find striking about digital citizenship is the citizenship aspect. It is a very positive human trait, the willingness to engage in issues which go above and beyond self-benefit. It’s altruism in action which our digital networks have the capacity to amplify. As a result, in an increasingly connected world where borders blur and a global audience is but a tweet away, knowing how to be responsible and reliable citizens within digital environments is more vital than ever.

We are at a junction in the road where if educators do not begin to cultivate the desire and capacity to use digital tools to enhance connection, creativity, and cultural understanding, we’re doing a huge disservice to the students of today and society of the future. It’s now a teacher’s professional responsibility to engage with the new media environment of the 21st century and to design learning experiences for students which embed digital citizenship. Despite what it sometimes seems, students are not “magically empowered and fluent in the use of social media” (Rheingold, 2010). They need coaching and relevant learning programmes to assist the development of their digital citizenship understandings. It’s a teacher’s responsibility to facilitate this.

Many have explored different models of digital citizenship (such as Mark Ribble) but a key aspect that must be included is international-mindedness, where digital citizenship is enacted on a global stage through practised, embedded actions (Lindsay & Davis, 2012; Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 2015). An entry point for teachers wishing to get going on their journey to learn more about this is to dive into the world of education-based social media. Platforms such as Twitter allow teachers to connect and contribute to a worldwide think-tank of educators and develop their personal learning networks. Starting a professional blog, curating educational content, and commenting on the posts of others are meaningful ways teachers can begin participating in a global conversation and growing their own understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen. Of course though, not all rests on the shoulders of the teachers. “It takes a village”, a community approach with all relevant stakeholders working in sync, for holistic and lasting digital citizenship development (Hollandsworth, Dowdy, Donovan, 2011).

The other side of the coin looks at how schools as institutions are preparing to implement or extend a digital learning environment. This can be challenging for schools as a heady mix of parental concerns, teacher and administrator understanding, financial expenditure, and time commitment can become barriers. While these can often seem insurmountable, the power of a motivated teacher must never be underestimated. The teacher with gumption, ambitious goals, and a deep motivation (aka a Teacherprenuer) can view these issues as creative constraints to innovate upon. Teachers who take an active, purposeful, leadership role can greatly assist a school to face these obstacles.

During this course, many opportunities have arisen to develop our capacities as Teacherprenuers. Curating content and connecting in the #ETL523 Twitter stream has deepened understanding and led to many resource hunting “down the rabbit hole” experiences. The first assignment, which drew together four educators to collaboratively design an online learning module was challenging, but clarified for me what truly collaborative work requires: clear communication, understanding, doing your fair share, and being willing to compromise. Opportunities to explore the perspectives of others was evident in course forum interactions. The last assignment especially, a report in which we drilled into the issues in our own school’s digital learning environment then planned how to overcome them has helped enormously to build a “Teacherprenuer” mindset where evidence-based action can be taken immediately.

At my school, as Learning Technology Coach, it’s up to me to provide the way forward for leadership, teachers, parents, and students; to plan the planning, bring stakeholders together, discuss the issues, pilot, implement, support and evaluate. I believe this course has given me the skillset, mindset, and toolset to enable this to occur. In fact… it has already started. Due to the momentum from the last assignment and discussions with relevant stakeholders, an initial meeting has taken place with the Elementary Leadership team and we are on the road to drafting new blogging and portfolio policy documents, embedding digital citizenship learning into relevant units of inquiry for next academic year, and have already lead staff professional development on Creative Commons and professional blogging.

The board is set, the pieces are moving.

Thank you to Julie Lindsay, subject coordinator for providing a rich learning experience with Digital Citizenship in Schools. Jordan and Jacques for ongoing support, Hangouts, and comedic relief. And the other forty or so course participants for pushing thinking, answering questions, and sharing their varied perspectives.

 


References

Global Digital Citizen Foundation (2015). https://globaldigitalcitizen.org

Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., & Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends. 55(4) 37-47.

Lindsay, J., & Davis, V. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds: Move to global collaboration one step at a time. New York: Allyn and Bacon.

Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention and other 21st century social media literacies. Educause Review 45(5). Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/attention-and-other-21st-century-social-media-literacies

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine Elements All Students Should Know. International Society for Technology in Education.

Being a Teacherpreneur sounds like something all teachers should be striving towards:

Pedagogically knowledgeable, technologically literate, striving for global connection and collaboration, developing a strong PLN, making a dent in the world of education, a community organiser, personalising learning, and someone who stays supremely focused on the learning experiences students are having.

Great stuff, of course. Lots of stuff, from many different educational sectors.

For a deeper look you can read more about teacherpreneurialisim in these articles:

Teacherpreneurs (by Caples, Casey, Cherian, Espejo-Vadillo) and Leadership for a Global Future (by Julie Lindsay).

Lets reflect for a second on the original meaning of the word, entrepreneur. Here are some snapshots from the Wikipedia article:

  • Entrepreneurs have a “pro-risk-taking attitude”
  • They “identify opportunities, evaluate them as viable, and then decide to exploit them”
  • They show “considerable initiative”
  • They invite in “creative destruction” and “dynamic disequilibrium”
  • An entrepreneur “assumes all the risk and reward of a given business venture”

Two points jump out at me from this. Entrepreneurs have a keen eye for spotting opportunities (and then acting on them), and they assume risk. Zeroing in on these two points, I believe, brings us to the essence of the term Teacherpreneur.

Lets drill down a bit further about how they might flow over into the world of education.

“Entrepreneurs have a keen eye for spotting opportunities (and then acting on them)”. This may be…

Teachers with open mindsets, who are curious, and question. Those who ask – why do we do it this way? So what, who cares? Those teachers who pounce on a teachable moment, who set up rich learning experiences from unexpected sources. Teachers who can empathise with their students, can locate what is blocking learning or comfort, and create ways to nullify these blocks. Teachers with hunches about what might work, and the gumption to try out small or big solutions. Those with an intuition, a sixth sense, highly attuned to the ebb and flow of student life.

The other point, “they take a risk that their ideas might fall flat”. This may be…

Teachers who speak up. Who are not comfortable with business as usual – who have a gentle “uneasiness” that they can and should be trying to innovate. Those who are brave enough to lead the way and try new things, sometimes against colleague, parental, and societal pressure. Those who are comfortable failing (and failing publicly), because they know they will learn something every time. Teachers who keep testing ideas, iterating, testing more, learning, getting feedback, and perfecting ideas. Those who are willing to be active, to take responsibility for enhancing the experience of “school” for their students.

Zeroing in on the essence of the term Teacherprenuer, I believe you find yourself at these points. A restless, active, and brave mindset, which you deploy in the pursuit of enhancing education.

As the internet has flourished and grown exponentially over the years, keeping our children and students safe has been quite the cause for concern – from media, from parents, from teachers. Digital citizenship, at it’s very least then, can be thought of as developing the skills to keep safe online, how to avoid the nasty bits of the internet, and strategies to deal with it when they eventually do.

It’s a valid aspect of digital citizenship, but should not be the main focus. It’s too negative.

Well-rounded digital citizenship efforts should focus on how our digital technology enables us as individuals to become more active, altruistic participants in global culture. Altruism is our selfless drive to contribute, to share, to help, and support. Our digital networks of mass communication and collaboration can be tools to amplify our altruistic tendencies.

“Active citizenship” is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. – Wikipedia

Digital Altruism

Digital citizenship efforts must encourage altruism; placing the student, the individual, as a citizen of the world, responsible for adding open knowledge, having healthy, positive, relationships, respecting diversity, being creatively free, ethical, and moral, sharing productive pursuits, able to support others, and engaged in non-judgemental debate. This is what an informed, publicly engaged digital citizen should be embodying.

While this is a wide wave to surf, as teachers, we can now begin to zero in on the kinds of knowledge, skills, tools, and mindsets altruistic digital citizens might need in order to participate fully in the social networks and online places and spaces people come together in, in order to have better, more positive, meaningful impact.

Fortunately, much work has been done in breaking down the component elements of a digital citizenship programme which aims to reinforce notions of effective, positive, responsible participation (Greenhow, 2010). Mike Ribble, Gerald Bailey, and Tweed Ross have identified Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship: digital etiquette, digital communication, digital access, digital literacy, digital commerce, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security.

Christine Greenhow illustrates how teachers are setting up learning experiences for students to meet these themes – including creating cyberbullying scenarios within Second Life, and presenting cases of ethical dilemmas to work through – which are having an impact. Following the #digicit and #flatclassrooms hashtags on Twitter reveal a host of other learning experiences students are engaging with as well.

The internet gets a bad rap a lot of the time. Lets change the narrative. Lets encourage students to use the digital tools and networks they have available for the power of good. Lets make the themes of altruistic digital citizenship run rampant throughout our teaching and learning programmes, encouraging positive, moral, ethical, and productive action.

 


 

Greenhow, C. (2010). New concept of citizenship for the digital age. Learning & Leading with Technology, 37(6), 24-25.

Ribble, M. (2016). http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/Home_Page.html

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