Updating to Avoid Being Outdated

Taking technology to new levels has become the norm in today’s world. There are very few professions that do not utilize technology in some form or fashion. With the adjusting need for updates, from simple everyday apps or essential security software, staying abreast of the multiple layers that technology requires takes professionals into areas of their jobs where they may find themselves needing more education. More specifically, the teaching profession is an area where educators need to use technology in the classroom, yet teachers need to stay informed of the latest tools available to them. Sometimes the demand can seem overwhelming, especially when many teachers today already find themselves juggling multiple obligations like staff meetings, department meetings, or after-school activities. Remembering why we chose to go into teaching helps provide fuel to keep us moving in the right direction. Like the need for technological updates, our devices need to work at their top level; teachers should strive to continually “update” themselves to pursue excellence in their job.

Hopefully, each person’s goal is to become a productive member of society, be educated towards a specific profession, or learn a trade through an apprenticeship. Regardless, hopefully, each person contributes positively to the community and the world in which we live. It is within the life of technological education that learning to function as a productive citizen becomes vital. Although they may be at home physically away from individuals, people can easily forget that they are most likely interacting with another human somewhere. That human may be on the other side of the world reading a post created by said person, or they may be in a synchronous meeting for school where they are live. Conducting ourselves as if we are speaking to someone in person helps them become good citizens, more specifically, good digital citizens who are being productive members of the online society–the online world. 

Speaking to the head administrator of a local school, this particular school looks to focus holistically on each student through committing to the students, families, and the surrounding community to: “Learn, Love, and Lead. To accomplish their purpose, they teach the “9 Qualities of Life” (character education): purpose, curiosity, discernment, connection, compassion, courage, humility, service, and persistence. Within their technology courses, a section of digital citizenship is taught using lessons from Common Sense Media (link here), which offers excellent plans covering ISTE standard 7 and each of its elements. Through this interview with the head of the school, I learned more about their efforts to use digital citizenship to teach the 9 Qualities of Life, and I chose a few of these qualities concerning ISTE standard 7.

Persistence 

The school I focused on gives more information for each of the 9 qualities to help guide in understanding, and for “persistence,” they say, “I strive for excellence.” According to the “Ethics in Technology Practice” project at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, “Ethics is, Cultivating one’s own character to become increasingly more noble and excellent” (Markkula Center). As teachers, we desire to “update our software” to be better at our jobs. Students come to school to learn and better themselves, making them more prepared for society outside of the school. Additionally, students would be wise to remind themselves that what goes online stays online. What is posted on social media may be seen by a potential employer and could, quite possibly, be used in a hiring decision. As we “cultivate our character,” we can help motivate students to pursue excellence once they have received their “book knowledge” and leave our schools for life in the world. As a digital education leader, my goal is to be increasingly “more noble and excellent” as I help develop students and teachers through coaching. In the ISTE standards for coaching, it states, “Empower educators, leaders, and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect” (ISTE Element 7d). I agree that I must be smart about what I say online and what I post, reminding myself first, educators, and students that there can be a far-reaching impact on a person based on something said—even if it was many years prior. In speaking to the head of school, the pursuit of excellence is critical in digital citizenship because “it is what sets us apart from the rest of the world,” and also because “we should work as if working for the Lord.”  

Discernment 

As technology teachers, we should be educating students to skillfully discern the good from the bad, the credible sources from the noncredible sources. Can our students, can our teachers, discern the author’s purpose in adding the information out there (cyberspace)? ISTE element 7c states, [coaches] support educators and students to critically examine online media sources and identify underlying assumptions (ISTE, 7c). I see this ISTE standard more like a life skill, so I chose to sum the standard up in the word discernment. The school also chose discernment as one of the 9 qualities of life, hoping students can say, “I use knowledge to make wise choices and judgments, speak the truth, and live with integrity.” There are several lessons within Common Sense Media that focus on teaching students to make good choices with the sources they find online. Marc Prensky, in his essay “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom, states, “We make assumptions, often inaccurate, about the thoughts or intentions of others” (206). Prensky argues that we need to be more digitally wise today because this is a different time in which we live. Develop discernment to make intelligent decisions on our own. 

Connection (Inclusivity) 

Among the 9 qualities, “connection” is listed. Yet, I am tying it in with inclusivity concerning ethnic diversity because connection states, “I value people, and so I invest in communication, language learning, and understanding the cultures in which I live. In the interview, connection was also spoken of as how the school helps teach ethnic diversity. It is important to note that this school is also an international school, so multiple ethnicities are represented in the student population. There are Japanese, Indian, Chinese, American, Korean, etc. Students today are faced with a lot of issues surrounding ethnicity—and not in a good way. So much has happened in the world, criminally, that shows many people are simply racist and do not value ethnic diversity. With online education jumping into the driver’s seat, teachers must educate their peers, students, and parents on how to filter and locate crucial information to learn what a company values ethnically. Digital coaches should “inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities” (ISTE 7a). In Ruha Benjamin’s book, Race After Technology, Benjamin offers a website that provides quick check information on websites. This website specifically provides information on how ethnically diverse and ethnically inclusive a company purports themselves to be.  

Compassion 

Compassion, another quality of life, hopes that students can say, “I show empathy for others and look for ways to make a difference. “With the issues happening in the world that seem to divide us ethnically, culturally, and socially, having compassion for others and ourselves (spiritually and physically) is vital. ISTE element 7b says, “Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology” (7b). More importantly, the standard adds some additional information to specifically “[stand] up for others online and [be] empathetic and aware of others’ perspectives and experiences” (7b). While this part of the standard does help explain compassion for others, the rest of the element helps explain having compassion for ourselves by stating we should “self-regulate time online to ensure well-being and physical health” (7b). Time spent online, regardless of the reason (watching movies, gaming, or just surfing the web), needs to be balanced with time spent face-to-face with others—interacting with people physically when possible.

Additionally, taking the time to be “device-free” for a time to exercise, go out and get fresh air, and be away from technology is important for our mental and physical well-being. The school provides “little technology use among early childhood students.” As students become older, technology is added in small amounts. This includes 20-30 minutes daily during a school day for older elementary students to more extended periods for older secondary students. Additionally, workshops for parents are offered to help educate them on the importance for everyone to “unplug” and interact with one another as a family. As the staff leader, the head administrator chooses only to email vital information, usually preferring to create one email at the beginning of the week with all the events taking place for the next few days.

Digital citizenship is essential in the technology course taught at the school, and the school looks to cover each element of standard 7 alongside their 9 qualities of life. Through interviewing the head of school, they demonstrate a healthy method of helping students to be good digital citizens, alongside helping students to develop holistically. As a district, their decision to teach the 9 Qualities of Life in an effort to “Learn, Love, and Lead” became apparent in several ways. Each of the qualities becomes a topic for the month. Teachers are told at the beginning of the month which quality will be the topic for the month, and then teachers have the freedom to incorporate each of them into their lessons. Whether you are the English teacher in high school or the P.E. coach for all the grades, one of the qualities is incorporated into a class. Additionally, each grade attends weekly assemblies where the quality is included in some sort of lesson, helping each student understand the importance of how these 9 qualities are important in developing each of us holistically. One piece of feedback I offered, in relation to “connection” and being ethnically diverse, was incorporating educating the students on how recognize if a company is ethnically diverse. Other than this one suggestion, I found the school to be very healthy in their ethics. Below is the complete interview:

How does the school promote digital citizenship?

During our elementary computer classes, middle school technology courses, and high school technology course, a unit is devised that focuses explicitly on digital citizenship. This unit teaches students about safety online, discernment when using technology and online tools, and ways to practice positive digital citizenship. The school also uses the “9 Qualities of life” (character education) to emphasize digital citizenship where appropriate. For example, during November, the word was “curiosity.” This allows the technology teacher (and, really, all teachers) to reiterate the importance of digital citizenship and how well it ties in with many of the character qualities.

What is your philosophy on technology concerning education?

I believe that technology in education must be viewed as another resource and tool. Technology can serve as a vehicle to enhance educational practice, such as the opportunity to interface with others globally, access multiple sources of information, including primary source documents, and the tools used when displaying products to showcase learning. For example, students in one of our graphic design courses create a portfolio showcasing all their creations. Younger students are able to use classroom sets of tablets to practice keyboarding and basic computer skills.

How do you garner excellence in yourself? Your teaching staff?

I believe in the scripture that states we should work as if working for the Lord. Whether in the school setting or anywhere, excellence is not only expected but is the thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world. Our students deserve our very best, so each decision made and carried through is done with what is best for students in mind. This is also about leading with positivity and building a school culture of excellence. Having ongoing professional learning and a school culture of continuous improvement keeps us moving toward excellence daily and instills this same expectation in teaching staff.

How do you decide on what professional development you will provide to educators?

Professional learning is built around our school strategic plan. The strategic plan is data-based, using summarize assessment data, observational data, and conversation among the continuous improvement team. As we analyze data and set our goals and objectives for the school, we then examine the necessary professional learning and professional development needed to move the school forward. Additionally, surveys are sent out to teaching staff requesting feedback on what would be most beneficial.

In what ways do you promote teachers and students to conduct themselves online with the future in mind? In other words, how do you help teachers and students see how their actions online may affect them in the future?

As part of our digital citizenship learning, students learn about discernment and the impact of online actions on their futures. Also, specific guidelines are in place to protect teachers and staff ethically when posting information online. While many social sites are blocked from student access, students may have their own accounts to other social media using their personal ISP. We remind students through weekly advisory classes the importance of “thinking before clicking” because we recognize we are not able to block students from using their own personal social media accounts.

How do you protect the staff who are “networked” through the school’s internet service? How do you teach educators and students to protect their data and the information they post online?

The school has an extensive infrastructure to ensure safe browsing and to safeguard against external data breaches. While on campus, the safeguarding tools are in place for both students, teachers, and staff. Also, any work with third parties must meet specific guidelines that ensure data is not shared. Teachers and staff receive training at the beginning of the year, and it is also posted in the organizational and school handbook regarding what is allowed to be posted and what cannot be posted. Teachers may not post pictures of students, school information that is derogatory, or any personal student or collegial information on social media. 

Students are also taught about internet safety beginning early. Classroom iPads and computers block all social media sites, as well. In addition, students of all ages agree to technology standards as part of the handbook, and a violation of these standards can result in disciplinary action. One of the “9 Qualities of Life” is “discernment” and it states, “I use knowledge to make wise choices and judgements, speak the truth, and live with integrity.” Through weekly assemblies, students are taught character development in an effort to develop each student holistically with the hope that they respond accordingly before posting something online from their own social media accounts.

How does the school teach discernment as it relates to evaluating online sources and “information bias?”

CDIS uses commonsensemedia.org lessons for all students aged 2nd grade through 8th grade and for students taking advanced computer courses in high school on the idea of digital discernment and information bias. Lessons are based around vignettes and direct instruction from the teacher and then follow-up activities and discussions with the class.

How does the school educate everyone on ethnic diversity and inclusion in general?

As an international school, much of the learning is related to ethnic diversity and inclusion through character education in elementary, character development and advisory in middle grades, and philosophy courses and connect time at the high school level. Students in high school receive deeper learning in this subject area with such classes as “Applied Ethics,” where discussions reflect learning about individualized differences and choices. All levels also participate in weekly assemblies based on our “9 Qualities of Life,” which include a focus on connection at the beginning of the year, designed to bring the reality of diversity in our world into focus as a start to the year.

How do you educate teachers, students, and parents to be ethnically diverse concerning digital education?

As part of the learning related to digital citizenship, students learn about discernment when choosing products and how to receive information, including how to be discerning when considering companies’ products’ diversity. The Director of IT and IT staff attend monthly training that works to inform people across the organization of credible tools and digital educational products that reflect diverse cultures.

How do you educate others on how to recognize an ethnically diverse company?

Refer to the previous answer. Additionally, our goal is to only purchase products from companies that are ethnically diverse. As such, we strive to pay attention to what is said by companies in the media and on their own websites to help in recognizing what that company stands for in order to make sound decisions.

How does the school promote a “culture of respectful online interactions?”

The school emphasizes a culture of respect for all individuals and their cultures, including a culture of respect online. Through teaching respect for all individuals and emphasizing that this expands to social media and interactions online, we build a greater culture of respect for all, no matter the setting. Furthermore, through weekly advisory classes and assemblies, one of the 9 character qualities (connection) states, “I value people, and . . . I collaborate effectively and respectfully with people from any culture.” With the recent issue of the pandemic, many online classes required students to work together online and perform peer reviews on each other’s work, as well as posting comments. Teachers were able to reemphasize the importance of respectful online interactions, and intervene quickly when needed to correct any poor behavior.

How do you educate teachers and students to show compassion (“being empathetic”) online?

One of our ISC 9 Qualities of Life for December is compassion. When emphasizing compassion, conversation, and activities that are developmentally appropriate are taught at every age and grade level. During this month of emphasizing compassion (empathy), scenarios and learning expand beyond face-to-face empathy but also empathy in online platforms. Also, the technology agreement and guidelines signed by teachers and students emphasize showing compassion to one another when online.

How does the school actively promote “unplugging?”

The school considers “unplugging” a critical part of using technology in developmentally appropriate ways. Younger students in early childhood (ages 3, 4, and 5) have little to no technology beyond teacher-led technological practice. In contrast, as students progress into elementary (through 5th grade), students may have one computer course per week and 20-30 minutes daily during the school day using technology. In middle school, students may have more interaction with computers during the school day, and by high school, students have a bring your own device policy. Students are taught about the need to disconnect and unplug regularly and how to regulate their use of technology. For middle and high school, a health and wellness survey is conducted annually, asking students to discuss their online and technology use. This information is shared with parents and students as a learning and talking point. Parent workshops are held annually, which discuss “best practice” with technology for students by age, also encouraging the need to unplug.

How do you encourage more face-to-face interactions versus sending emails and text messages within the staff?

As the school leader, I keep a running list of various topics and information. I analyze what information is critical to share immediately, often via text message, what can be shared in a larger piece of information, via email, and what can wait until a large group meeting and face-to-face interaction. Whenever possible, I try to go to the individual to interface and ask questions directly, versus via messaging platforms. This not only encourages more face-to-face interaction, but it also preserves instructional time by not disrupting learning through multiple messages. Typically, at the beginning of the week, an email will be sent out with all the information for the week to avoid many emails going out. Teachers are also aware of a bulletin board within Canvas if any other information needs to be dissipated.

How does the school promote a “healthy balance in their use of technology” regarding putting down devices and getting outside more?

See question 12–a healthy balance in technology use is directly related to the child’s developmental age. In addition, while teachers are encouraged to use technology where appropriate, teachers are encouraged to use various learning activities and various assessment methodologies that use a range of learning techniques beyond technology. Secondary teachers are encouraged to limit the amount of homework (which would typically be done on a device), so students can “unplug.”

References

Benjamin, Ruha. “Introduction,” Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. (Medford, MA: Polity, 2019), 1-32.

Common Sense Media. (2020, November). Digital Citizenship Curriculum. https://www.commonsense.org/education/system/files/digital_citizenship_curriculum_overview_2020_0.pdf?x=1

International Society for Technology in Education. (2020, October). ISTE Standards for Coaches. ISTE. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Prensky, Marc. “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,” in From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin, 2013), 201-15. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. (2020, October). Overview of Ethics in Tech Practice. Santa Clara University.

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