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Digital citizenship a priority in SF classrooms

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(Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)
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In this day and age, to say that many children and young people seem obsessed with screens, devices and digital media is to state the obvious. But they are not just passive recipients of hashtags and images. Our students’ world is as much about creating media as it is about consuming it.

Media devices have become extremely powerful and portable. They are used to listen to music, send texts, film videos, snap and share photos and access the internet. People use devices to socialize, stream video and create movies and songs. And of course, they are also used to connect and communicate 24/7 from just about any location.

At the San Francisco Unified School District, we aim to guide students to make good decisions so they can take advantage of the powerful technology that permeates their lives. In order to make good choices, they must know how the fast-changing digital world works. The very nature of this constantly connected culture means kids, and adults, must understand how to be good digital citizens.

What does digital citizenship look like?

We start as early as kindergarten. Our students play a simple game called “Going Places Safely,” in which they discover the internet can be used to visit far-away places and learn new things, and that staying safe online is like staying safe in the real world. There are some basic rules for children to stay safe while traveling on the internet. For example, don’t meet up in person with someone you meet online, and think carefully before you post something.

For older students, we promote in-depth activities about cyberbullying, which is far too common. In one required lesson, called “Upstanding,” students discuss what it means to be brave and stand up for others offline and online.

They learn to show empathy for those who have been cyberbullied and generate multiple strategies to intervene when peers need help.

By the time our students reach high school, digital tools are essential to accessing information and building knowledge. However, given the “alternative facts” littered across the internet, we spend time teaching our students to be critical consumers of the material on the screen in front of them: Who is the author? What is their point of view? Who is the intended audience? Where was it published and in what medium? When was it written? Are valid sources cited?

Ready for the world

Being a good digital citizen doesn’t just happen; it takes effort on the part of educators, parents and peers — just like it takes effort to be good citizens in real life.

The lessons and activities we work with at the SFUSD are largely shared with us by an organization called Common Sense Media. If you have children in your life whom you’re helping to guide through the digital world, I encourage you to check out their helpful tools online.

Our educators know that being safe and successful in the digital world is now essential knowledge, so we’ll continue to develop digital citizenship skills in all of our students.

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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