Digital Citizenship

Grad Students Teach Digital Etiquette to Michigan Middle Schoolers

Education students at the University of Michigan have been going into a local school and teaching the middle schoolers there how to mitigate risk and be respectful online. The program, which began in 2013, allows those master's students to gain experience in teaching with technology and working directly with students, said Liz Kolb, clinical assistant professor of education technologies at the university in the School of Education, who oversees the program.

"I realized that we were talking about digital citizenship and teaching digital citizenship, but we weren't actually doing the act of working with students about what it means to be safe and respectful and responsible online," she said in a video. In this program, she added, "our student teaching interns get the hands-on experience of being able to work with middle school students and talk to them about digital citizenship."

The work is a partnership between the education technology instructors at the university and English language arts instructors at Scarlett Middle School. Like the university, the school is located in Ann Arbor.

The three-day program, taught over several weeks, addresses different topics in each grade. Students in sixth grade gain the basics of digital safety and learn about privacy, security, identity, phishing, Creative Commons and copyright, among other subjects. Seventh graders learn how to build a positive reputation online and how to distinguish between "harmless" and "harmful" posts online. Eighth graders learn how to be empathetic to others online, including how to respond when they see others being mistreated.

"What we're really trying to get at is this core idea of empathy online and ways that students can really put themselves in other people's positions and see through other people's eyes," explained master's student Bryan Preston.

"A lot of schools struggle with how to teach digital citizenship. This gives U-M students an opportunity to see the complexities of what it is to teach in middle school and allows us to talk about technology with them," said Kolb in a university article about the program.

What surprises many of the teaching students, she added, was how little empathy the middle schoolers might show at the beginning of the instruction and how far they come in three days. "What they see from day 1 to day 3 is a change in the way the students think about what they're putting online, what they are saying and, more importantly, how they are talking about others online."

Anthony Stewart, one eighth grader who went through the program, concurred. "The thing I've learned is to think about how other people feel before I say or post something. Even though it might be funny to others or it might not seem offensive, it might be offensive in many different ways."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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