Digital Well-Being and Citizenship

by Sue Khalaieff, Democracy Schools Network Manager
The eighth session of the Civics Across the Curriculum webinar series was held on Thursday, April 8, 2021. This year’s theme builds on the theme from the originally scheduled Democracy Schools Network (DSN) Spring 2020 convening, “Every Teacher is a Civics Teacher: Best Practices for Civic Learning and Organizational Supports.” View a recording of the session.

The program featured two DSN members from Antioch Community High School (ACHS) discussing their ongoing efforts to blend digital literacy and citizenship with their staff and students. Grant Murray, Dean of Students and Jaclyn Orlov, Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction, began blazing the trail for this initiative at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.

When this program started, it came out of a concern to promote a safe and responsible use of technology. This had been a concern for a while, but with this undertaking, the approach would be different with an insistence on focusing on positive aspects of digital citizenship. It seemed that much of the oversight of student use of technology in the past had emphasized all the things that students should NOT be doing. This effort would encourage and affirm students’ use of technology for good; it would be both educational and fun. The district administration was very supportive of this thinking, and especially endorsed how the proposal intended to naturally integrate digital literacy into what teachers were already doing in their classrooms.

The program began with a Twitter Slow Chat with staff members at ACHS for the purpose of generating some buy-in. This was followed up by a presentation to staff (during a late start day), where teachers were asked to think about their own digital identity, by reflecting, connecting and formulating a personal challenge regarding their own media life. This produced enough enthusiasm that several faculty joined the committee that was forming. Teachers from many different disciplines were joined by other staff members (including the librarian) and several students. The team began planning an energetic roll-out for the entire school, planned for the week of March 9. A media blitz was conducted, and a Scavenger Hunt which highlighted Google tools, FlipGrid, digital art, Twitter, Youtube, etc. kicked off the festivities. And then…well, remember March, 2020?! All of a sudden, there was something much bigger to contend with. Schools began shutting down because of COVID-19, but the seeds of digital well-being had been planted at Antioch Community High School.

When the 2020-21 school year began, it was still a confusing time. Underscoring the need for digital health was the reality that everyone was now a digital learner out of necessity. Schools were assessing how to best function in this environment, and schedules consisted of remote, in-person and hybrid options (often alternating). The team shifted their focus a bit, as so many students had to learn basic skills about how to function in this remote world. Equipping students with practical, everyday digital skills became the immediate concern. Skills like appropriate use of school email, behavior in a Google meet or participation in a Google chat quickly became a priority. There was also a need to address a diminished sense of community and school spirit due to the toll the pandemic was taking on everyone. The team partnered with the Student Senate and sponsored a Digital Spirit Week, where they were able to address both worlds: improving student morale and promoting digital citizenship.

How do we make digital citizenship relevant in a hybrid/remote environment?

  • Bring topics of digital citizenship into more classrooms
  • Offer teachers support with these topics by planning more professional development on digital topics, as well as current and controversial issues discussions
  • Have Pear deck templates available for teachers to use with their students
  • Seek out more ideas and direction from students
Citizenship in a democracy needs to include a battery of digital skills that allow people to fully participate in their communities. These diverse skills address elements such as access, etiquette, fluency, collaboration, security and responsibility. With this initiative, Antioch Community High School is making inroads with both staff and students in working towards their original (and ongoing) goal: using the digital world as a force for good.

This DSN four month series will end with the next session on Thursday, April 22: “Strengthening School Climate through Inclusion: An Approach to Teacher Professional Development”. Register or find more details.

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