Digital Education: Mission Statement

My Mission is To:

  • Model and promote the responsible, legal, and ethical use of technology through my personal actions.  
  • Equip all students with the tools necessary to survive and thrive in our increasingly digital world.
  • Share technological wisdom and best practices with fellow teachers via formal or informal mentorship.
  • Use technology to bridge gaps in access, knowledge, communication, and cultural understanding.

Because I believe so strongly in the potential for learning and community-building through technology, I am compelled to model and promote methods that ensure students and teachers alike can safely, ethically, and effectively use technology as we work toward a brighter future.

 

Why is technology in education no longer optional?

Students’ shifting needs

If educators truly wish to prepare students for “a future not yet written, then we need to consider the critical need for all students to receive a viable education that not only includes core content but also purposeful integration of the 4 C’s” (Johnson, 2017, p. xvii). The National Education Association’s Four C’s of 21st Century Learning include creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. This simplified framework was developed to address the changing needs of modern students: “In the 21st century, citizenship requires levels of information and technological literacy that go far beyond the basic knowledge that was sufficient in the past” (NEA.org, n.d.).

Meeting the needs of all learners

One of the most exciting promises of technology in education is the potential to bridge the gap between students of different socioeconomic statuses. This difference is known as the digital divide and it further disadvantages already at-risk students. However, students’ access to technology in school can compensate for lack of access to technology within the home: “…the power of access in the hands of motivated learners may make up for a lot of disadvantages” (Jones & Bridges, 2016).

Why is there a need for leaders in digital education?

The power of mentors

Whether sharing resources, modeling effective use of technology or providing feedback, mentors are a fundamental part of technology implementation in schools. According to Palmer, the power of mentors is that they awaken a truth within ourselves (2007). Just as students need guidance when navigating new content, teachers need support when implementing technology for the first time.

Training gaps

Policy has not caught up to practicality. 95% of all educational buildings in the United States are equipped with computers according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (2016). While an encouraging statistic, purchasing computers and equipping teachers to use them effectively are not the same. The majority of teachers in America (78%) feel that they have not received adequate technology training (Ascione, 2017).

What does it mean to be a digital education leader?

Digital wisdom

Digital wisdom is the interaction of the human mind with digital technology and the realization of the possibilities and responsibilities that that interaction affords. To put it another way, “…wisdom is needed to engage with and live within the technology and media that have become our environment” (Campbell & Garner, 2016). Digital wisdom encompasses using technology intentionally and with care and consideration given to individuals and group affected by our online actions.

Proactive, not reactive

Digital education leaders recognize that technology is a powerful tool that can be harnessed for both positive and negative outcomes. They make a distinction between the undesired behavior and the device, which is merely a tool. With this foresight, they proactively teach and model the appropriate use of technology while equipping students with the tools needed to avoid the pitfalls of technology. Leaders also approach both the consumption and production of technology within a moral framework by considering the broad implications of their actions online.

My Guiding Principles:

Ethical framework

A strong moral framework should support the decisions we make as educators, and that includes the use of technology. The ‘Golden Rule’ is a simple moral test that can be applied to every situation. Though mostly connected with the Judeo-Christian Bible, the concept of the Golden Rule can be found throughout history in various iterations within many proverbs and religious texts. At its core, the Golden Rule asks a person to consider the potential harm or benefit of one’s actions upon another. The 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant borrowed from the Golden Rule when shaping his Categorical Imperative. In an attempt to remove the subjectiveness of the individual in favor of a more universal interpretation, Kant called for individuals to act as they would want all others to act toward each other.

The consideration of others put forth in the Golden Rule and Categorical Imperative is reminiscent of the concept of mindfulness cited by Howard Rhinegold as a way to reclaim digital agency and attention (2012). It can also be related to Carrie James concept of conscientious connectivity which aims to cultivate agency, reconnect disconnects, and correct blind spots in technology use (2014). The underlying message is that through careful consideration of ourselves and others, we can make better choices online and also guide students in making wise and ethical choices in their online actions.

It’s not the technology; it’s what you do with the technology.

Technology is no substitute for quality teaching. It is therefore important not to become too excited about access in and of itself. What is done with the access matters most. The quality of instruction is much more important than the delivery method. Likewise, the method of use has much more value than the device itself (Jones & Bridges, 2016). This is why it is so important for districts to set aside funding for ongoing technology training and coaching where knowledgeable digital education leaders can model the effective use of technology while incorporating it with existing core standards and content.

Technology is an opportunity to “promote diversity, cultural understanding, and global awareness by using digital-age communication and collaboration tools” (ISTE Standards: Coaches, 2011). With the advent of the internet, learning is no longer tied to a physical classroom. Not only can the internet be a tool to discover new cultures and perspectives, it can facilitate communication between students from across the globe. Technology can also bridge differences in learning styles and experiences. For example, students might be offered multiple modes of information to study.

Technology creates opportunities for engagement. Student engagement is a key component of learning. When students use technology to facilitate learning, they are engaged with the content in new ways. For example, instead of reading a textbook to learn about World War II, students could view interviews with veterans online. These types of learning opportunities make content real for students.

Technology also provides opportunities for ownership. Educators are doing a great job of creating rules (don’t share your location with strangers, don’t cyberbully, don’t give out your password), but are failing to help students build a positive digital identity with technology and are therefore missing out on the bigger picture. One example of building a positive digital identity would be a digital learning portfolio. Identity-building has not only social and academic benefits, but also supports the teaching of digital citizenship. Teens who have a personal investment in technology via ownership are more likely to consider the ethical issues of online life (James, 2014).

Don’t be a tool of your tool.

The concept of agency in technology translates to using technology for a particular purpose with intent and foresight. An individual practicing agency would not spend hours mindlessly viewing strangers’ photos on social media. This is not as simple as it seems. The on-demand stimulation and dopamine boost provided by technology can make it difficult to put down the device. Worse still, many students feel participation in online communities is compulsory to a healthy social life. Students even feel that sacrificing their privacy is a compulsory aspect of internet use. It is apparent educators are not teaching students to use the tool, rather than be used by the tool.

Attention, when explicitly taught, can increase students’ agency. Often attention is thought of as a fixed quantity when in reality the human brain is highly plastic and can adapt with proper training. According to Rhinegold, the keys to building attention are setting a specific task using premeditation and then practicing willful inattention to unwanted distractions–such as turning off the cell phone (2012).

Attention is a skill that can and should to be taught to students beginning in the early grades. The key, according to Jennifer A. Livingston, is to combine awareness of how attention works with strategies to hone that attention (as cited in Rhinegold, 2012). Once these tools are given to students, they must be allowed to practice them and self-evaluate their own progress.

In addition to agency and attention, digital citizenship is a necessary set of skills in order to use technology ethically. Educators are obligated to “[m]odel and faciliate safe, healthy, legal, and ethical uses of digital information and technologies” (ISTE Standards: Coaches, 2011). One framework mentioned in the Ribble & Miller article for implementing digital citizenship is the R-E-P model. The ‘R’ stands for Respect and focuses on the importance of having empathy in online interactions (including recognizing the digital divide) and the legal obligations of Fair Use, copyright, and piracy. The ‘E” is for Educate and considers how to protect personal and financial information and how to navigate technology to meet various needs. The ‘P’ is for Protect and encourages students to inform adults if an online situation is making them uncomfortable and also to have a healthy online-life and real-life balance.

Digital literacy: a building block of modern society.

According to the Jisc webpage entitled “Developing Students’ Digital Literacy,” the definition of digital literacy is having the skills necessary to live, learn, and work in a digital society (2015). Beyond digital citizenship and the ethics of online life, students must be given the tools to navigate the endless amount of information available online. It is imperative that educators “promote strategies for achieving equitable access to digital tools and resources and technology-related best practices for all students” (ISTE Standards: Coaches, 2011).

Using search engines effectively is a key skill that is often overlooked in the classroom. To connect students with the most credible and relevant data, it is important to teach advanced search terms and the need to read multiple sources before making a conclusion.

Once information is found, it must be properly used and cited. The issues of Copyright and Fair Use can get complex, which is perhaps why many teachers teach MLA or APA citation but never go deeper. In a time when many students’ dream job is being a YouTuber, educators do students a disservice by not explicitly teaching Copyright and Fair Use.

Just as important as accessing information is detecting misinformation. Whether intentional (fake news) or accidental (uncited information or rumors), misinformation is an increasing problem. Students must be taught to be critical consumers, a skill they woefully lack according to a 2016 Stanford study. The consequences of misinformation are serious: “At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish” (Stanford History Education Group, 2016).  If educators are not willing to teach students to identify misinformation, we risk allowing politicians and corporations to rob students of agency.

Howard Rhinegold cites Dan Gillmor’s Five Principles of Media Consumption as one framework that can be used to teach students to detect misinformation online. The principles are: be skeptical, exercise judgment, open your mind to other sources, keep asking questions, and learn the techniques used by the media (2012). Another suggestion Rhinegold makes is to use the triangulation test before sharing information online. Under the triangulation test, information should not be shared unless it has been validated by three credible (and independent) sources.

Conclusion

Digital literacy, citizenship, and agency must be interwoven in the core curriculum and explicitly taught and modeled on a regular and ongoing basis for students. Likewise, teachers need support and guidance in implementing technology. Because I believe so strongly in the potential for learning and community-building through technology, I am compelled to model and promote methods that ensure students and teachers alike can safely, ethically, and effectively use technology to further the goals of public education.

We have a duty to equip all students with the tools necessary to navigate online life safely, legally, healthily, and ethically. I am driven to this principle because of my belief in the Golden Rule. I want my students to make choices online that keep themselves safe both mentally and physically, promote kindness and compassion toward others, and enable them to access and manipulate information online for their own edification.

I likewise feel driven to provide access to tools and resources for all students, especially those disadvantaged economically. Technology has the power to transform education and information, thereby helping students to rise above difficult circumstances. Our students are the future. It is in everyone’s best interest to have an educated, responsible, moral, and technically-literate society.

Sources

Ascione, L. (2017). Still? Most teachers feel unprepared to use technology in the classroom. [online] eSchool News. Available at: https://www.eschoolnews.com/2017/11/27/teachers-technology-classroom/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Campbell, H. and Garner, S. (2016). Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in a Digital Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, pp.19-37.

Hibberson, S., Barrett, E. and Davies, S. (2015). Developing Students’ Digital Literacy. [online] Jisc. Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].

ISTE Standards: Coaches. (2011). [PDF file] International Society for Technology in Education. Available at: http://www.iste.org/docs/pdfs/20-14_ISTE_Standards-C_PDF.pdf [Accessed 6 Dec. 2017].

James, C. (2014). Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Johnson, L. A. (2017). Cultivating Communication in the Classroom: Future Ready Skills for Secondary Students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Pr.

Jones, M. and Bridges, R. (2016). Equity, Access, and the Digital Divide in Learning Technologies: Historical Antecedents, Current Issues, and Future Trends. The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology, [online] pp.327-47. Available at: http://alliance-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/SPU:spu_alma_summit:CP51247078040001451 [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].

Mayclin, D. (2016). Computer and technology use in education buildings continues to increase. [online] Eia.gov. Available at: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=24812 [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Nea.org. (n.d.). Preparing 21st century students for a global society: A guide to the 4 C’s. [online] Available at: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/A-Guide-to-Four-Cs.pdf [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Palmer, P. (1998). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, pp.1-34.

Rhinegold, H. (2012). Net Smart. The MIT Press, pp.77-145.

Ribble, M. and Miller, T. (2013). Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, [online] 17(1), pp.137-45. Available at: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1011379 [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].

Wineburg, S. and McGrew, S. and Breakstone, J. and Ortega, T. (2016). Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning. [online] Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: http://purl.stanford.edu/fv751yt5934 [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017]

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