What does digital citizenship look like in an international school setting?

An Ethics Audit Report

I have the privilege of working in an international school in Southeast Asia. This school is located in one of the major capital cities in the region. Technology education is an integral part of the school’s academic program, from helping students understand how to be digital citizens in the elementary school, having technology integrated into core classes and electives in the middle school, to robotics, digital arts, theater technology and IB/AP Computer Science offerings in high school. The school is an Apple Distinguished School for the last ten years for its partnership with Apple in the Apple one-to-one program.  Every student from first grade to fourth grade is assigned an IPad to use at school, and from 5th grade to 12th grade, a student can check out a MacBook that they can use for the entire school year. 

In light of the recent pandemic, the school campus closed in March of 2020 and switched to online learning since then and during the 2020-21 school year.  It has recently opened its doors to its 1800+ students using the hybrid model. This digital ethics report was conducted for this school. I had the chance to interview the elementary school digital coach, who I will address as Ms. M. 

Focusing on the elementary school setting, students learn about digital citizenship beginning in kindergarten using the Common Sense Education curriculum (https://www.commonsense.org/education/) for digital citizenship. Some indicators of an effective digital citizenship curriculum include students who are using technology to collaborate with other students while forming friendships and building positive relationships. Young students who are developing understanding of digital citizenship are proactively using digital tools to help them express their ideas and share their learning. Though the main responsibility of teaching digital citizenship depends on the digital coach(es), something to aspire for in the future is that the principles of digital citizenship are embedded in each classroom community as a result of collaborative teaching by the technology team and the classroom teachers. One way to put it is that digital citizenship is not just learned when the digital coach comes but is integrated in the daily teaching and learning. 

How has the pandemic modified or changed our use of technology?  In the last eighteen months, teachers have had to rely heavily on technology to be able to teach. “We cannot teach without technology,” says Ms. M. Many teachers have become ‘experts’ on teaching via Zoom within a short period of time. Being thrust into the role of online teachers has definitively increased teachers’ skill levels, as well as comfort levels, in using technology. However, this scenario has also diminished the transformational aspect of technology and replaced it with routines and necessity. Now that teachers have increased their skills as well as comfort level in using a variety of technological tools, the goal is to be more selective and purposeful in how the digital tools are being used to enhance teaching and enrich learning for all students. Ongoing professional development efforts will include technology updates and training in digital tools and resources. 

How do we equip teachers to teach digital citizenship? Partnership and collaboration. Integrating technology into curricular units can be powerful and more effective than having only the digital coach teach technology lessons. Classroom teachers have the advantage of knowing their students. Partnering with the counselor and embedding lessons as part of community meetings is another great idea. For example, in the area of social and emotional learning, which is led by our counselor, we can explore ways to use technology to teach lessons on safety, emotional regulation and friendships and build these lessons into classroom community gatherings. In our school context, the community meetings have been a springboard for developing trust and establishing community. What a great space to introduce and/or teach digital citizenship! 

School-home partnerships throughout the year is a priority.  Even more so, during the pandemic, the role of families in the education of their children compounded to a level that surprised many parents.  Ms. M. spoke about a Parent FAQ document regarding technology is available but admits that parents and families should be made more aware of resources we have. An idea would be to create a Resource Page for parents that addresses a variety of topics:  the common issues they might encounter during online learning, digital resources we use at school, and practical tips, such as how to find balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning. 

Equitable access to resources and meeting the diverse needs of all the students is an area that always has room to grow. As the student demographics change over time, so does the support system. Ms. M. responds to the question about access by asking a follow up question: Are we using technology well enough to help all students succeed?  How are we helping our English language learners? How do we use technology to increase access for students who have a language barrier? How about students who have diverse learning styles and abilities? This is something that can be developed further by collaborating with specialist teachers and those that work with specific student groups.  

What about ensuring that our school adheres to rules that address fair use, privacy and copyright? As an international school, we abide by the rules that apply to international school settings. For example, in the area of reading, when a teacher reads a book aloud to his or her students, it is important to credit not only the author and illustrator, but the publisher as well.  For students, issues of privacy, safety and data protection are founded on principles of respect, responsibility and collaboration, which are taught beginning in the younger grades. As students get older, the issues surrounding digital footprints are addressed and students are made more aware of the impact of their decisions, both online and offline. 

How can we model integrity in the use of technology? It is imperative that we give credit to where credit is due. Students are taught to credit their sources as they begin to conduct research in a variety of topics. Pictures, images or tools that are used for teaching should be properly cited and appropriately utilized. This is something that can easily be forgotten or overlooked, but we must be conscious of the choices we make and become intentional at being a good example to our students. 

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