Monthly Archives: June 2014

Questions and Reflections about Learning in the Digital Environment

Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt are facilitating a Digital Citizenship Massive Open Online Course(#DCMOOC). The community within this course is discussing the digital environment and the implications for educators and students. The week two presentation looked at learner participation in the digital environment and the implications for critical thinking and ethical behavior. We explored the questions around age restrictions and filtering for learner environments. The following questions followed the presentation for continued discussion.

How do we ensure that learners are critical, ethical, and knowledgeable creators, consumers, and participants of digitally mediated environments? How can we develop students’ abilities to become self-regulatory in the appropriate use of digital media, rather than relying on external filters and restrictions?

Learners need guided opportunities for purposeful use of digital environments. We teach critical and ethical activity through our modeling during instruction and by setting tasks which require thoughtful creation of artifacts and products. When we plan for these tasks, we need to establish the guidelines which support students’ understanding of copyright and privacy. Along the way, we can give feedback on their sources and their citation of their sources. Learners’ develop their abilities to self-regulate when they are given real opportunities to choose. In the digital context that means choosing their sources of information and critiquing them. In the early years, we can do these tasks together as a class and model the citizenship they will need to develop. As they grow, we can give opportunities to develop their skills by providing examples and non-examples of sources and materials as well as guidance for what to do when they ‘arrive’ at online places they know are not appropriate. I think the following analogy is appropriate: we teach children to swim by taking them to the pool. If we stayed in the bathtub, they would not learn what they needed in order to swim. Just as children need to be in the pool to learn to swim, we need to go into digital spaces to learn to participate in the digital environment.

How do we model modern approaches to copyright and creativity, where the rights of both creators and consumers are balanced and respected?

I believe learners and teachers need to know the limits and freedoms we have as citizens. Under Canadian copyright legislation, it is recognized that citizens can make mash-ups of material without breaking copyright. Mash-ups are digital artifacts made by mixing a number of sources (photo-shopping a photograph, mixing two music tracks, adding music to a series of video clips). These mash-ups must not interfere with the ability for the owner or creator of the original to make a profit from their creation or product. As a consumer, I also have a right to use portions of material for research, for private study, for review or criticism, and news reporting. I also have a right to use materials for education, for parody, and for satire. My uses must be fair to the owner or creator of the work. To use work fairly, I need to give credit for the work, not sell the work, and not interfere with the selling of the work.

Learners need to be aware of their rights and the rights of others when it comes to making and sharing work digitally. We need to teach them simple ways to give credit. With younger children we can call it a ‘thank you’ for the work of others which is supporting their work. We can model these things in our own presentations and artifacts which we produce for school. We can develop age appropriate ways to say ‘thank you’.
How do we help students develop positive digital identities? What activities/assignments/projects can we integrate into our teaching to help our learners build their digital footprints?

How do we help our students to become kind and caring citizens who act with integrity in all spaces, including digital ones?

As a parent, I help my children develop their digital identities by having them use their own name when they work online. We started with their email addresses and have slowly added tools and artifacts to their online spaces. They check with me before adding friends and talk about how what they ‘like’ sends a message about who they are and what is important to them. We have talked about how what appears private can be copied and shared in public. We have started to develop portfolios of videos and projects which will form the oldest section of their digital footprints.

At school, I work with young children. Not all their parents are ready to have their children identified online by name. I think we can help to mitigate this concern by using first name, last initial, and avatars for identifiers with younger children. I hope to counsel the students’ parents to consider how creating a ‘fake’ identity could harm their child’s ability to navigate the online world honestly and carefully. Our children need opportunities to develop their online presence with the support and advice of trusted adults. Teaching them to be themselves online is an important first step in developing a positive digital citizen.

What is the role of schools in terms of developing student activism? How might we encourage and support students to use online spaces and social media to contribute positively to our world?

I believe in being an active, engaged citizen of the world. I struggle with the term ‘student activism’. Why? I should love it. I believe in learners being active, engaged citizens of the world and I believe in being in online spaces using social media. Activism needs to be the outgrowth of student engagement. I think we need to be cautious about doing social action because it’s well-marketed. This is peer pressure activism, which I sometimes get a whiff of with the “Be the Change” T-shirts or mandatory Pink T-shirt day. I think we need to get our learners into the real world and making a contribution in the ways which “fire them up” and make the world a better place.

So how do we encourage it? We do things that matter. We teach about the real world, real people, in real places, with real struggles. We cry, we laugh, and we think carefully about what we are doing and when we have kids ask the question, “but what can we do?” We do something, anything, which we can think of together to help make a difference.

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