Dec 09 2016

University of Michigan Teaches Digital Etiquette to Middle School Students

From cyberbullying to phishing, graduate students are helping middle schooler students learn how to be safe online.

For students pursuing a master’s degree at University of Michigan’s School of Education, learning where technology fits in the classroom goes hand in hand with teaching students how to treat each other online.

Since 2013, Liz Kolb, a clinical assistant professor of education technologies at Michigan, has been sending her students to Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor to teach digital citizenship.

EdTech and ISTE have noted that instilling a sense of digital citizenship is a key first step to improving cybersecurity overall.

ISTE’s Standards for Students 2016 defines digital citizens as students who “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal, and ethical.”

If that’s the case, the question becomes: How are universities preparing future teachers to train students in digital citizenship best practices? When Kolb found out that Michigan wasn’t engaged in this sort of education, she took matters into her own hands.

“It all started when my student teachers were coming to me with stories about their students doing things that were unsafe with digital tools,” says Kolb. “I realized on our end that we were not doing a very good job at preparing them for having complex conversations about what is safe, kind and responsible online.”

Initially, Kolb’s student teachers worked with just a few classes at Scarlett, including Sal Barrientes’s English class, but eventually the school decided to expand the program to all its students.

“Any day, somewhere in our building, our kids are using technology,” Barrientes says. “There’s no way we can avoid it, so we need to teach all of our students to be safer online.”

Kolb — a former K–12 technology coordinator — worked with Barrientes and other teachers to develop the program as it is today.

Creating a Win-Win Digital Etiquette Program

Scarlett’s program is tailored for each grade and addresses privacy, security, phishing, copyright infringement, online reputation and cyberbullying.

To the lay the foundation for what students should be doing, Kolb says it was important for the program to start before they got their hands on any technology. Also, she guaranteed that all of the middle schooler students were able to work with a student teacher by creating small teams.

“Our teachers get a chance to learn how to teach this in a safe environment, and the middle schoolers get to have these conversations with adults who aren’t that much older than they are,” Kolb says. “If a college student says, ‘I don’t do this because it’s not kind or safe,’ that might make them think differently.”

Kolb and Barrientes say both groups of students had overwhelmingly positive reactions to participating in the program.

“Many of the graduate students are nervous about working with older students, but they end up understanding that they can have really deep and rich conversations with middle schoolers and they can make an impact quickly,” Kolb says.

In a video Michigan created about the program, student teacher Amanda Kortz says the experience was helpful because she not only got hands-on experience working with educational technology, but also learned how to evaluate ed tech.

“We’re challenged to think critically about whether the technology is helpful in the classroom,” says Kortz.

Barrientes says Scarlett students are grateful that the school is taking the time to have these conversations with them, and that they’ve ultimately learned a lot about empathy in particular.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to think about how other people feel before I say or post something,” says middle school student Anthony Stewart in the Michigan video.


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