There has been an exponential growth in the advancement of educational technology over the past few years. While many of us can remember filling in worksheets at our desk as our teacher demonstrated the work using an overhead projector, many students in elementary schools now carry cell phones and tablets to school with them and have constant access to information.
Although having access to these devices can be an advantage for students and teachers, they can also present challenges in regards to their use in the classroom—especially at the elementary level. For this reason, educators at Guelph Community Christian School (GCCS) have implemented a three-year program to teach Digital Citizenship to students. Digital Citizenship is a concept which helps teachers communicate to students what they need to know in order to use technology appropriately, and to help prepare them for the responsible use of the devices that are available for learning in the classrooms.
“At GCCS we desire to equip students to be intentional, innovative, and wise with technology,” shared principal Tanya Pennings. “We desire for them to view technology as a part of our toolbox for learning and to see ways of using it in a God-honouring manner. In order to work towards this goal, we believe it is our responsibility to educate our students at their level, with relevant information.”
This is the third year that the school has set aside a, “student professional development” day at the beginning of the school year to teach students about the proper use of technological devices at GCCS. The Digital Citizenship program involves a full day of workshops and takeaway activities for the students, at all three levels—primary, junior and intermediate. These workshops revolve around nine elements of Digital Citizenship:
- Access (what kinds of information is available online and to whom),
- Commerce (buying and selling online),
- Communication (exchanging information),
- Literacy (how to learn from online resources),
- Etiquette (appropriate online behaviour),
- Law (privacy and responsibility),
- Health and wellness (psychological wellness in the world of technology)
- Security (self-protection).
In her opening address to the students at the beginning of the day, Mrs. Pennings compared Digital Citizenship to citizenship of a country. She outlined that in the world of technology and digital citizenship, the same rules and responsibilities apply—each citizen needs to feel safe, but also is responsible for their actions and is expected to be respectful of others.
After the assembly, students were divided into three main groups—grades 1-3, grades 4-6, and grades 7-8—and they headed off to various learning stations around the school. In these workshops, students were taught valuable information on issues such as finding safe places to look on the internet, how to properly cite information to avoid plagiarism, rules for online safety and avoiding identity theft, personal versus private information, the power of words and mindful messaging, how to properly care for devices, and how to recognize the difference between teasing and cyber-bullying.
After a morning of workshops and activities, students were quick to share things they’d learned about using digital devices. “I learned that it’s important to keep your stuff private, and not to share too much information about yourself, even when a website looks safe,” said grade 5 student, Daniel. Gianna, another student in grade 5, added that not everything that is on a website can be trusted, and that you have to check other reliable sources to make sure that information is correct.
Younger students also learned valuable information on how to take care of the school devices that they are using. Mieke, in grade one, was happy to demonstrate the things she’d learned about how to care for a device, including how to carry it with two hands. Her classmate Holden added that you had to make sure there was no food or drink near the school’s laptops when you are using them.
The afternoon activities allowed students to put into practice some of the things they’d learned during the morning workshops. Primary grade students watched a video called “Super Digital Citizen” and were invited to identify the things that needed correcting in each scenario of digital use. The intermediate grades enjoyed designing and creating Digital Citizen cartoons, based on some of the techniques they had learned in the morning workshops. And in the senior grades, students put their learning into practice by setting up Google classroom—a learning platform on which students and teachers can interact with each other and share learning resources.
At the end of the day, each of the students received a Digital Driver’s License from their workshop attendance. Students in grades 1-5 are required to have this license on their desk when operating a GCCS laptop. Students in grades 6-8 were also required to complete an exam to test their understanding of the things they’d learned throughout the workshops before they were issued their Digital Driver’s License. As well, they were asked to sign the GCCS Technology User Agreement, to show their commitment to the responsibility of having this license.
“I think it’s really cool to get the license,” shared grade 7 student, Luke. “It makes you feel like you have a responsibility, and that you can be trusted.”
Parents of the GCCS students have been exceptionally supportive of the Digital Citizenship program that has been initiated for their children. According to Mrs. Pennings, they are extremely grateful that their kids are being taught the value of using devices for learning purposes, and that there is a meaningful intention behind everything they do with them. “Several parents have approached the teachers here to thank them for not only giving their children the tools to use in the classroom, but also for providing the awareness of how to use them safely and properly. Obviously, the things they learn about the devices also carries over into their homes as well.”
“All in all, we’ve been thrilled with the responses we’ve had to the three-year program, both from students and from the community,” Mrs. Pennings concluded. “We have adopted a technology policy at the school that is designed to promote a God-honoring learning environment. It allows our students to enjoy the wealth of information and online resources that are available to them via the use of the school devices, within the context of the digital citizenship they have earned.”
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Guelph Community Christian School has generously offered to make available all of its resources for its three year program around teaching Digital Citizenship! You can check out these resources in the Innovation Gallery on the OACS edCommons site, and you can also participate in discussions about these fantastic resources by joining the new Digital Citizenship group. This is the same group that will also be connected with principal Tanya Pennings’ upcoming workshop at the Edifide convention later this month. Please log-on, join the group, and begin a conversation about what it means to teach students about being good digital citizens!