Digital Citizenship | Feature

Digital Citizenship in the Real World

The Digital Driver's License is helping students navigate the hazards of the Internet.

Every new driver takes a test before ever taking the wheel. With so much at stake, it would be reckless not to. So it's something of a mystery why, in the age of increased attention on cyberbullying and online predators, schools aren't doing more to prep students for the inevitable realities of the Internet.

Too often, digital citizenship topics like student safety and proper research methods are reduced to brief lectures that get wedged between keyboarding and software tutorials in catchall computer courses. Sometimes the digital component to the lessons is missing altogether. But with BYOD and 1-to-1 programs blossoming around the country, the subject is at least getting a second look from educators.

According to Marty Park, chief digital officer at Kentucky's Department of Education, 21st century topics require 21st century teaching methods. "We can either take the approach of 'we have to sit people down and say the same things or watch the same PSA video,' or we can take a different approach and try to really engage in the online space where students want to be."

Park is a pioneer of the latter approach. Three years ago, with input from twenty or so K-12 educators, Park first applied the driver's ed model to digital citizenship when he co-designed the Digital Driver's License as part of the OTIS initiative at the University of Kentucky. The Digital Driver's License, which was partly inspired by Mike Ribble and Gerard Bailey's ISTE publication Digital Citizenship in Schools, is an online tool that takes students through a series of hypothetical, real-world scenarios related to digital literacy and safety. The tool has been designed to encourage independence and caution among digital learners, much the same way a driver's ed course prepares drivers for the dangers of the road.

In 2011, the program debuted in a handful of local Kentucky classrooms. Since then, more than 600 districts (and about 60,000 students) have discovered it. Park said that the tool has reached not only traditional school districts, but also home-schooled students and adult learners. "We try to take a really proactive approach, but also a performance angle, and try and look at scenarios that not just students, but that we all find ourselves in," Park said.

Today the Digital Driver's License, or DDL as it's commonly known, features about eight scenarios, tailored by age level, that cover topics including what constitutes copyright violation and how to stay safe online. Each student registers individually and then progresses through background material related to a given scenario, which might include a video or examining a given situation. When a student feels confident she has mastered a topic, she can take a "prove it" quiz that puts her knowledge to the test. A passing score is 80 percent or greater. Scores, answer resets and attempts are logged for educators, who can follow each student's progress in an admin toolbar. Educators can further specify which scenarios will be required to earn a DDL.

Designed as an open educational resource — and thus free from the beginning — the DDL stresses more than just engagement and relevance for students; it's also about flexibility of use and self-directed learning. "We wanted schools and districts to be able to use whatever they wanted, however they wanted to, and we're seeing a lot of different types of implementation," said Park. "The idea is that the student or the learner really owns their own path."

Co-designer Marty Park walks educators through the process of registering for the DDL and setting parameters for students.

The open source nature of the DDL doesn't just mean that it's free; it also means it's open to meaningful contributions from educators who have something of value to add. Gerry Swan, a professor at the University of Kentucky and director of OTIS who co-created the DDL with Park and is responsible for much of its structural support, said that the DLL is "open in that not only can everyone use it, but everyone can contribute to it and make it better."

Stepping Up
When Kentucky's Henderson County Schools was looking to develop a BYOD program for interested classroom teachers, Linda Payne, the district's technology instructional coordinator, knew that students first needed a grounding in digital citizenship to prepare them for using their devices in an academic setting. Payne had been one of the first to sign on to the DDL program back in 2011, but, she said, "When our middle school was the only school using the Digital Driver's License, the high school part," which was the only comprehensive course available at the time, "was a little over their heads."

In response, Payne told Marty Park that he should consider adding a middle school component beyond basic cell phone etiquette — and he in turn suggested that she write it. Payne ended up completing two sections. "Educate Yourself, Connect With Others" covers social networking and online safety, while "Protect Yourself, Protect Others" deals with digital commerce and online scams. "The content there helps to cover the 9 sections of digital citizenship that are commonly referenced nationwide," she said.

Payne's work obviously struck a chord with educators. According to Park, "Just a week after publishing her cases, there were thousands of attempts on assessment."

The flexibility built into DDL means that, by design, there is no one model for using it with students. "If teachers are gung ho about their classes getting a Digital Driver's License, some of them will allow the students to use class time," Payne said. "But most of the students do a majority of that on their own time." As students complete cases, Payne and a colleague go through and check their success. Once they pass all the sections, students get an embossed "DDL" decal on their planners and are given access to the school's network.

By contrast, students at Carson City School District in Nevada move through DDL units with their teacher in a special "academic intervention" class and then work individually on the prove-it assessments in class. Lead technology integration specialist LeAnn Morris, whose district has incorporated the tool into a comprehensive digital citizenship course for students in grades 4-12 to prepare them for a 1-to-1 laptop program, said, "We want to make sure the students actually do the lessons so we have it a little more structured with the teachers at this point." Morris noted, however, that the program is still finding its footing, and the district may shift more responsibility onto older students to complete the cases on their own time.

That's the strategy currently favored by Missouri's Raymore-Peculiar School District, which is using the DDL to revamp its digital citizenship curriculum to prepare students for an expanding BYOD rollout. Ryan Gooding, the district's director of technology, said, "In the middle school and above, we kind of put it on the students to get it completed," adding that in the fifth and sixth grades, "Teachers walk the students through the sections they thought were age-level appropriate." In all grades, he said, it is the teacher who serves as gatekeeper for granting students their DDL.

In his interactions with students who have gone through the program, Gooding has been "surprised" by the response. With a school full of digital natives, "I thought I would get a lot of, 'This is ridiculous,'" he said, "but a lot of them actually talked about things they had learned, or that they had gone through the first section and gotten a score of one out of 11 and went back and watched it again."

He said sections on copyright and plagiarism particularly struck a chord with high schoolers. "It's a big thing with teens right now. Hopefully they're going to be able to apply that as they make choices as far as where they go on a network, what they do on the Internet for the rest of their lives."

Developing the Conversation
Right now, Park and Swan are tweaking some basic usability features based on feedback they've received from educators, and they plan to refresh some of the digital citizenship content this summer. They also have plans to expand the "driver's license" model to other areas, such as standards-based grading for professional development, operating under the assumption that, as Swan put it, "If it's good for students in digital citizenship, it might be good for other topics and areas."

While the founders agree that the model provides a good basis for engaging students, they stress that digital citizenship doesn't end with the DDL — just as developing good driving skills doesn't end with an exam. "The DDL is not, as we like to say, a Roomba," said Park. "You don't just turn it on and hopefully your house is clean. It's very much a conversation. That's one thing we like to be very upfront about. It's not a self-graded computerized thing you're going to walk away from and now, magically, your students are going to do the right things."