Mission Statement

Digital Education Leadership : Ann Gilcrease

Mission Statement

When considering which values would provide a solid foundation for structuring the digital realm my students and colleagues work in, the three that struck me as essential were integrity, communication and collaboration. Although they are by no means the most exhaustive of cornerstones, I believe they will provide form and function for creating online learning environments that are conducive to knowledge acquisition, compassionate and inclusive conversations, and promote problem-solving in the classroom, the district, and our diverse communities. 

Integrity

ISTE Standards:

7a: Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities.

7c: Support educators and students to critically examine the sources of online media and identify underlying assumptions.

Integrity lies at the heart of my goal to provide students and their digital communities with the necessary training to stay on the forefront of what will be needed in tomorrow’s world. The definition of integrity is having strong, moral principles and honesty in all endeavors, which is important in our conversations going forward as a district and nation. As a Social-Emotional educator, digital citizenship has a natural entry point through the incorporation of habits of mind lessons interspersed throughout the curriculum. By supporting educator and student critical examinations of their sources of online media and identifying their underlying assumptions (ISTE Standard 7c) in SEL courses, we can open the door to the essential conversations around technology use in schools that are usually left up to individual teachers.

It is essential that we remain honest with ourselves, in data-driven ways, to recognize where the weak points are in our students’ equity in access to technology. As Selwyn wrote in his response to Jandric’s, “digital inequalities are as entrenched and important an issue as ever.” (Selwyn, 2020). There is a moral and ethical imperative to provide equal access to education in our schools. Just because we have not shone a light on the nearly 20% of teens who are reportedly unable to complete their schoolwork at home due to a lack of devices or connectivity does not negate our responsibility to their education (Anderson & Perrin, 2018). Our district leaders need to examine the challenges we face in our schools and our student’s communities to provide solutions to address the specific situations that many of our teachers, students, and communities find themselves in (ISTE Standard 7a). 

As we work to solve the issues of student access, we must also strive for clarity in our digital curriculum. What is it that we are needing to teach our students, and when should we be focusing on certain pieces of digital citizenship and technology literacy (ISTE Standard 7c)? With the rapid changes that technology goes through on a daily basis, how can we best prepare our young people for the future? We require visionary leaders on our technology integration teams who can identify underlying assumptions, critically examine where our students and staff are and provide solutions that take into consideration the tools on hand, the budgetary constraints, and the community and culture we are embedded in. Such people are needed not only at the district level, but on every campus in the district. This needs to be a concerted effort that combines a working knowledge of the tech world – its needs and wants – and the skills necessary for education delivery of such knowledge. If schools have Social-Emotional classes, or embedded advisory time, they can incorporate Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship or a program like 2nd Step’s Social Emotional curriculum as a starting point. 

This connects to why integrity in the process is so important. Honest and ethical decision making set on a moral foundation is the only way our leaders will be able to make budgetary choices the community can stand behind. When making the kinds of monumental shifts in school culture, there will always be pushback from the community. It is the visionaries ability to convince the public of the moral righteousness of their ideas that will lead to success or failure in their endeavor. We, as digital advocates, are no stranger to the realities of our time, but we are not the only ‘pig at the trough.’ We must find ways to bridge the divide between the haves and the have nots with regards to our student’s digital education, and we can only do that if we have successfully convinced the public of the importance of that education. If we cannot appropriately market the need for this societal ‘upgrade’, then we cannot be effective at making the necessary changes to provide for all of our students. Those who ‘have’ will continue to excel, and those who don’t will be left behind.

References

2nd Step Program. (2012-2020). Second Step Program. https://www.secondstep.org/

Anderson, M., & Perrin, A. (2018). Nearly one in five teens can’t always finish their homework because of the digital divide. Washington D.C.: Pew Research Center, 28 October. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/26/nearly-one-in-five-teens-cant-always-finish-their-homework-because-of-the-digital-divide/. Accessed 13 November 2020. 

Digital Citizenship & Social-Emotional Learning. (2017). Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/elevate-digital-citizenship-through-sel

Selwyn, N., Jandrić, P. Postdigital Living in the Age of Covid-19: Unsettling What We See as Possible. Postdigit Sci Educ 2, 989–1005 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00166-9

Communication

ISTE Standards:

7a: Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities.

7d: Empower educators, leaders and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect.

It is my mission to provide clarity for students on the implications of their digital profiles. Although today’s typical young adult has been interacting online for the majority of their life, they may not be able to yet recognize when they are being taken advantage of as a consumer, or how to best curate their digital profile for future success (ISTE Standard 7d). Digital literacy is the umbrella term that represents “the habits of mind that enable individuals to effectively evaluate and critique information and its use in the digital age.” (Educause, 2019). It is the social intelligence mentioned in the article that our students may be lacking, and what I would like to focus my communication mission around.

From parents to student, teacher to student, and society to student, there is a disconnect for learners who have never lived without technology, of the repercussions of posting something online. In Chapter 5 of Disconnected: Youth, the New Media, and the Ethics Gap, the author speaks to the a specific rape case where the perpetrators and bystanders posted videos and images all over social media. The results were irrefutable evidence against the men who performed the heinous acts against the young woman, but it was also a ‘wake-up call’ that can be used to address the very real issues that are often swept under the rug in our society. It is the information age that we are living in that can, as the quote at the beginning of the book states, help us find a better balance – even if it is only between our online presence at the realities of the world around us. 

In order to find that balance, we need to have clear distinctions in our minds about the world we live in and the technology that pervades it. When approaching digital natives, it can be difficult to help them understand how actions can have consequences, when they may have lived their lives up to that point without the ‘real-world’ responses to communication mishaps. For example, if you walk up to a person an insult them, they have the space and time to react either appropriately or inappropriately, but they are given a choice to respond to the perpetrator. Online, if you insult someone, they may not be given the opportunity to respond because there is a myriad of ways for you to get out of the confrontation before it begins. You could hide behind your avatar, user name, VPN, or simply block them. You can log off and not have to think about the consequences of your actions. As a teacher of teenagers, their inability to ‘think things through’ online is an extension of their developmental stage. Unfortunately, this means they can get away with a lot more online than they could in person, which can distort their reality to a point that they no longer know how to appropriately communicate in public and much prefer their online anonymity. It can also mean they don’t understand what an online persona should look like as they’ve never had to curate one in real life that included integrity, responsibility, courtesy, kindness, or a work ethic because they have been able to dodge consequences.

How do we combat the wave of young people with the disconnects laid out above? We build it into the curriculum on a school-wide level. There are options, such as the Digital Citizenship curriculum by Common Sense Media that can provide lessons and topical units, or any teacher can provide a framework for curating student’s digital profile. However it is approached, the fact that it is a factor in the school’s approach to 21st century education is the best place to start.

References

7 Things You Should Know About Digital Literacies. (2019, July 29).  EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2019/7/eli7169.pdf

Carrie James, Disconnected: Youth, the New Media, and the Ethics Gap (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2014), esp. chapters 1 and 5

Collaboration

ISTE Standards:

7a: Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities.

7b: Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology.

It is my mission to act as a liaison between educators, students, and technological innovation. To help connect technological enhancements with practical applications in the classroom at a level that does not overwhelm, but rather takes work off of the teacher’s plate so they can find balance in their lives. In order to facilitate that learning, we must foster a culture of respectful online interactions through direct teaching (ISTE Standard 7b). Our students may have grown up with technology as an ever-present force in their lives, but that does not mean they know how to use it in the social, or work, realms. 

In their book, After the Digital Tornado, Frischmann and Selinger speak to a need for a reframing of the concept of what it means to thrive in this new digital age. They spoke of pluralism, and noted that it “requires building worlds that allow people to pursue diverse paths towards their conceptions of flourishing” (Frischmann, p. 155). It has historically been difficult for Americans to recognize the socialist underpinnings of our society that led to our middle class past, but it should be an important part of our pluralistic future. It is that foundation of tax-funded institutions that allow us to build individual paths towards our individual definitions of success. By recognizing that each of our students is on a unique path towards success, we can, as teachers, organize their interactions in ways that will enable them to work within the rapid changes that technology is bringing every day. Our classrooms can no longer be ‘one-size-fits-all. They must be student-centered, and cooperative, project-based, student led learning is the format that will provide the framework for the adaptability they need. It is those ‘soft skills’ they will acquire that we can use to build a culture of respect online(ISTE Standard 7b), as well as help them find ways to create a healthy balance of being ‘on’ and ‘off’ (Frischmann & Selinger, 2020). 

In the new conditions due to the coronavirus that moved education online, many students are struggling with how to stay distant, but remain connected. Having the requisite technology and access to the internet is one thing, but creating spaces in distance learning that builds emotional ties between students and teachers outside of the classroom is quite another. With so many students on the autism spectrum that can create social-emotional disconnects, as well as a myriad of behavioral and social disconnects built into our society already, it is more important than ever that we address the character of our students in our online classrooms. Common Sense Media has created a Digital Citizenship and Social-Emotional Learning packet to help educators and parents role-play through scenarios that are scaffolded and chunked to help incorporate each lesson into as large, or small, of a learning space. 

In addition, the International Baccalaureate Programme has long had Alternatives To Learning, or ATLs, that they have incorporated into their project-based framework. They have an ATL workbook that I believe could have wide-reaching usability in incorporating specific skills into various lessons across the curriculum both vertically and horizontally. Teachers are often loath to part with the curriculum they have used for years unless they are able to see the positives that a new approach can bring, and they, themselves, feel comfortable implementing it. By providing ‘one-off’ lessons they can add into their units over the course of a year, you’re not overwhelming them and not allowing them to see the path. There are entire character curriculums, some of the most popular are “Character Counts,” “Second Step,” and many others. Most of these need to have their own teacher, but there are free lessons online that are more specific to the immediate needs of the student that any teacher can incorporate into their lessons. It can absolutely be a slow change, but it must begin. A student will not be able to see the negatives in plagiarism if they do not understand its implications and real-world consequences. (ISTE Standard 7a) We must build character traits into our students so that they have healthy online, and offline, interactions.

References

Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger, “Why a Commitment to Pluralism Should Limit How Humanity Is Re-Engineered,” in After the Digital Tornado: Networks, Algorithms, Humanity, ed. Kevin Werbach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 155-173

Digital Citizenship & Social-Emotional Learning. (2017). Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/elevate-digital-citizenship-through-sel

Walsh, M. (2016). MYP ATL skills student workbook. Lance King and Print and Marketing Services (Vic) Pty Ltd. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_90ZZLQ3GyfVivZ7S5ZBpfyK3Z8RBI9U/view?usp=sharing

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