With easier access to social media platforms through mobile devices, students are spending significantly more time online. While technology can open many doors for learning, it can also be a breeding ground for cyberbullying and identity theft.
The realities of social media, both good and bad, spurred organizations like Project B3 to step in to teach students how to participate online in a healthy, thoughtful and safe way.
EdTech sat down with Tarah Luster, director of Project B3, to learn more about the organization’s unique approach to getting students invested in digital literacy campaigns.
EDTECH: What is Project B3’s program and how does it help cultivate proper digital citizenship?
Photo: Courtesy of Tarah Luster
LUSTER: Project B3 takes a really simple approach. These three Bs stand for “Be safe, Be smart, Be kind.” We talk with students about their responsibility for their own devices and their own use of internet and social media.
We're trying to instill in students that they have this amazing tool at their disposal, and they can put it to good use or bad use. It's their responsibility to use it in the right way.
One of the unique things we're doing is using peer-to-peer education. We have student leaders who get trained to talk to their peers.
This approach is meant to focus on their future. We talk with students about how, the minute they get a device or have an online presence, what they do reflects on them and can affect their future in some way.
We point out to students how to avoid the pitfalls, like posting things that might display them in a negative light, and also how technology and social media can help them get into college or have a successful career.
EDTECH: What is the importance of having a peer-to-peer program to teach digital responsibility?
LUSTER: When it comes to digital responsibility, and anything as far as technology goes, relevance is incredibly important. We want to stay relevant because social media is constantly changing. We don't know what apps kids are using now or what games are the most popular or even the terms that they're using online.
Student leaders are the most relevant participants online because they share their fellow students’ experiences. Simply put, they have more information than we do.
Also, what we have found is students tend to listen to their peers more than they listen to parents and teachers.
EDTECH: How do you prepare student leaders to be effective digital responsibility teachers?
LUSTER: Usually, students are chosen by administrators or teachers, whom we spend time training. This starts by having an initial conversation, so we know what's going on in their school. The conversation will cover what apps and games are popular among students, what kinds of problems they are running into online, what concerns students might have, and what practices students think they are already really good at.
Then, we share a student leader guide that helps them focus on the topics they touched on. This helps them design relevant and informative presentations for the rest of their school.
Additionally, we have them design a questionnaire to start a conversation in the classroom.
EDTECH: Why is this the right approach, as opposed to simply banning social media or phone use on school grounds?
LUSTER: There are a lot of schools that will say their students aren't allowed to use Instagram, so it’s not an issue for them, or their students aren't allowed to use their phones in school.
However, the reality is students are on those apps whether they are in school or not. Do schools think students are not on Instagram? Do they think they're not Snapchatting the minute they get on the bus?
We don't think digital responsibility has to be a constant message, but schools do have to look at it like they would warn students not to talk to strangers.
Kids hear about the “stranger danger” over and over again until it's ingrained in their head. There needs to be a similar program for digital citizenship because these kids are online all the time. Whether they are using social media in school or not doesn’t mean the danger isn’t present.