Diving Deep in Citizenship

What sorts of implicit and explicit rules govern our online societies?

This question is the primary point of inquiry for the Grade 8 Digital Citizenship Unit that I am working on with three other  teachers. It’s been a very exciting unit to work on, but also a bit of a doozy. As we’ve found, there so many aspects to the question, so many conflicting viewpoints, that it’s hard to prioritize and pick out the best pieces.

Thus far, the students have done a Digital Footprint activity where they looked at and analyzed their own digital footprints, as well as those of a few volunteer teachers. This was based on the Digital Detectives activity that Jeff Wrensen, Mairin Raisdana and I worked on in an earlier COETAIL unit. Two of the teachers have also started an activity in their class called Online Reputation Consultants. It consists of the students taking on a client/consultant collaborative relationship that has three parts:

The other teacher’s classes were on a somewhat different schedule and so she led them in a discussion focused on identifying what guidelines they could articulate to be safe online. After the two of us met last week, she offered for me to come in a teach a guest lesson if I was interested. It seemed like a good way to test out some of the lesson ideas that I had been working on, so I agreed.

The lessons are coming up next Monday and Tuesday are are focused on the topic of safe online communication. I think the issue is incredibly important, but all too often it gets framed only as “stranger danger”. While unsafe online communication can lead to bad situations, as we read in the article “The Myth of Online Predators” back in Course 2, the classic danger of online stalking turning into physical violence or abuse is quite low.

I want to look more at what Carrie James would call the ‘ethical’, rather than the ‘consequentialist’ dimensions of these scenarios. It’s not just about knowing how to be safe – it’s about our responsibilities in helping create safe communities both in real life and online.

The basis for our lesson is going to be a series of scenarios in a lesson from Common Sense Media. It begins with a video:


The lesson focuses on a few different scenarios, primarily focused on teaching young girls to be cautious in online flirting. Again, while this idea has truth in it, it seems to deflect responsibility for the boys to also promote a safe space for both boys and girls. It also ignores important ethical questions about online behaviors (like lying in Minh’s story below) that many would feel are ethically problematic.

Abby’s Story

(adapted from Common Sense Media’s “Safe Online Talk”)
Abby is 14. Yesterday was her friend Ivan’s birthday party, and Abby chatted with some of his relatives at the party. Today, Abby logs on to Facebook and sees a friend request from Ivan’s uncle. She doesn’t know him very well, but they did chat a little bit about school at the dessert buffet.

Minh’s Story

(adapted from Carrie James’ Disconnected)
For the past two weeks, Minh have been playing an online multiplayer game that has about 30,000 members and takes place in a 3-D world. Yesterday Minh joined a club within the game. His fellow club members, none of whom he knows offline, seem very nice and have already given him lots of game advice as well as some useful equipment for his character.

Buying, selling, and trading such equipment with other players is a fun and important part of the game, but there are few rules about trading, and exchanges don’t always end well for some players. Minh has noticed, for example, that many of his clubmates brag to one another about taking advantage of new players by selling them worthless green rocks, called pseudogems, for very high prices. After finding some pseudogems while doing a joint quest with two of his clubmates, Minh is invited by one of them to travel to a nearby town to try to sell the pseudogems to inexperienced players for a big profit.

Catherine’s Story

(adapted from Common Sense Media’s “Safe Online Talk”)
Catherine, who is 15, logs on to a chat room for teenagers. Her screen name is CathyKisses15. A guy called MikeyMike99 said hi to her a few days ago, and they’ve talked every day since. He’s really easy to chat with, and she likes venting to him about things that annoy her at school and at home. She hasn’t told him anything too personal yet. “U seem so mature. Ur 15 right? I’m 20,” MikeyMike99 says.

Catherine’s Story part 2

(adapted from Common Sense Media’s “Safe Online Talk”)
Catherine is back online with MikeyMike99, and they’ve been talking for about a week now. He’s starting to flirt with her, and she’s flattered because he seems pretty mature. After all, Catherine’s not really into any of the guys at her school, so she likes flirting with Mike online. She’s pretty good at it too. And yeah, he said something that might have been kind of sexual once or twice. Today he writes, “Can I show u a pic?” Before she types a response, he says again: “Keep this private ok? I like u, Cat. I hope u like me 2.”


The challenges I’m working on now are how to take a discussion about technology and actually use technology to enhance it (a la SAMR). Easier said than done. I’m thinking of a few different possibilities though, including having students use forms or polls to make the scenarios more interactive, to have the students create their own scenarios, or perhaps to use a general class social media account to have the class create tech safety tips that are based on different scenarios. I think I know what I’m going to be working on this weekend.

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