Tag Archives: Critical Lens

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Digital and Global Citizenship in the 21st Century

With great digital power comes great civic responsibility.

As our world and its digital interfaces overlap more and more, they become increasingly conflated. The gap between being a global citizen and a digital citizen is closing quickly; being an active and engaged citizen of one means being an upstanding citizen of the other. As a Social Studies teacher, this idea really resonates with me. I seek to teach students about their own civic responsibilities, about how their ethics determine those same responsibilities and shape how it is they choose to live in their community, society, and world. I would be remiss to forego educating them about how ethics should shape not only their communal but their digital behavior, and how the responsibilities of citizenship follow them in every step of their lives, no matter the forum.

In the 1990s, Doug Johnson, the Director of Media and Technology in Mankato, Minnesota public school district, foresaw the coming of the Digital Age in which students would need to undergo training in the rights and responsibilities of the digital citizenship. In his blog http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/developing-ethical-behaviors-in-students.html, Johnson details how teachers can educate students about ethical digital behavior by appealing to students’ sense of ethics. He writes, “the terms “ethical,” “safe,” “moral,” “appropriate” and “legal” are all used when discussing whether technology behaviors are right or wrong,” but cautions us to remember that just as in moral ethics, digital ethics are not always black and white — we as humans tend to think of most things on an “ethical continuum” (Johnson, 2002). For instance, Johnson offers, “A student using a school computer to view sports scores is not illegal, but it could be considered inappropriate if it violates school guidelines” (Johnson, 2002).

I find Johnson’s moral appeal very compelling, and know my students would connect far more deeply with the conversation surrounding digital citizenship if they could connect it to a philosophical exploration of their own moral judgement — what is right? What is wrong? What is in between? And why?

One of my classmates kindly referred me to The Global Citizen Foundation at https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and cultivating responsible digital citizens. The website offers digital professional development techniques that they urge be implemented school and district wide. The website also has several resources for teachers, and led me to historypin http://www.historypin.org/en/, a website designed for putting together local digital history projects — certainly a resource my students would enjoy! The Global Citizenship Foundation suggests that in order to be a knowledgeable digital citizen, we must be well-versed in solution, information, creativity, media, and collaboration fluency (The Global Citizen Foundation, 2016). Again, I couldn’t help but think about how transferable these fluencies are to global citizenship. I wonder if we can yet drop the “digital” when talking about digital citizenship, and consider just how universal our code of ethics can and should be.

References:

Johnson, Doug (2002). Developing ethical behaviors in students. Retrieved from http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/developing-ethical-behaviors-in-students.html.

The Global Citizenship Foundation (2016). Global digital citizenship guide. Retrieved from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/21st-century-fluencies/global-digital-citizenship.

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History Matters: Using Rich Media to Conduct Historical Research

This week began by investigating the digital tools and resources available to help students of history use critical thinking skills to conduct and manage their own research.

I began, then, by referring to EdTechTeacher: Best History Websites at http://besthistorysites.net/research/, which offers educators tools for History Research and Writing Guides, Internet Search Tools, Primary Source Collections and Activities, History Databases, Museums Online, and Website Evaluation Materials. Dr. Bates warns teachers must be sure not “overload” students, or present them “with too much information at too complex a level or too quickly for them to properly absorb it” (section 6.6.3), so I evaluated each tool individually to better ascertain how I would directly teach its use.

As I dug into each section, I was particularly struck by The Center for History and New Media (CHNM), which seeks to produce historical works in new media forms to test their effectiveness in the classroom: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/. I have already used their History Matters website a few times in my own classroom; its Many Pasts section has primary documents in text, image, and audio that importantly trace the stories of ordinary Americans. The CHNM also features a Research and Tools section, which details how to use Zotero, a free Firefox extension used for managing and citing research sources. Additionally it offers a Making Sense of Evidence section, which provides students with strategies for analyzing online primary documents, and contains interactive exercises designed to guide the use of traditional and online sources. Lastly, CHNM’s Reference Desk offers students information on how best to evaluate websites and understand copyright and fair use.

CHNM’s History Matters website what Dr. Bates would define as a “rich media source,” offering students many ways to interact with its tools inside and outside of the classroom. As Bates warns, however “rich media may contain a great deal of information compressed into a very short time period and its value will depend to a large extent on the learner’s level of preparation for interpreting it,” (section 6.3.3.) so direct instruction in how to use each feature of this informative and varied website would be absolutely essential to explore its full and rich potential.

Another integral part of using rich media is educating students on how to do so responsibly. Students must be able to make informed decisions on the appropriate use of digital resources, and while History Matters offers some great suggestions on the matter in their Making Sense of Evidence and Reference Desk sections, students should know a thing or two about digital citizenship before even embarking upon such complex digital research.

I found a website called Digital Citizenship, which offers a “Nine Elements Section” that provides students with a list of commandments, if you will, that are easy to remember and will help guide students in their individual digital research projects http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html. These nine elements remind students what it is to be a critically thinking historian who uses their digital resources carefully and responsibly. Being responsible digital citizens, after all, allows students to make full educational use of the rich media at their fingertips.

References

Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (6). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/chapter-1fundamental-change-education/.

Teacher Evaluations: The Case for Some Subjectivity

Despite our best efforts, no evaluation is ever completely objective. This is the case for both student and teacher evaluations. Assessing student work, particularly student writing, is invariably subjective. We as teachers consider individual student growth, motivation, and even “grit.” There is no way to perfectly grade student work, and no perfect rubric could possibly exist to eradicate that problem. But then again, is it a problem? Honestly, genuine evaluations necessarily incorporate subjectivity.

The same goes for teacher evaluations. There is no full-proof way to objectively evaluate teacher performance. If teachers are grading in subjective ways, we can hardly use their grades as an objective determinant in deciding how well they are doing their work, right? Grades, I will also mention, can be easily manipulated and basing a teacher’s performance on classroom grades could actually lead down a dangerous road. Assessing teacher performance on students’ performance on standardized tests could be arguable too objective. As in, these scores do not incorporate student socio-economic obstacles or learning challenges. Again, subjectivity is a natural and integral part of evaluations.

Grades and standardized tests should be incorporated into teacher evaluations, but they themselves should be considered subjective components of that evaluation. Other subjective factors should also go into this — administrative observations, department reviews, student surveys. Adding up several subjective sources will never get us to our desired objective evaluation, but it gives us a great deal more evidence to work with. We should always be asking questions about our evidence, and openly admitting their subjective nature will bette equip us to ask the questions necessary to evaluate their validity. Let’s not, then, depend on any one objective measurement, because it just doesn’t exist. Let’s rely on a compilation of subjective evidence, and question it to piece together a more cohesive, though still complex, story about a teacher and their performance in the classroom.

KWL and Student Voice

The Know, Want to Know, Learned (KWL) chart is an incredibly important instrument for the Constructivist educator. In the classroom in which I student teach we have used this method a few times, particularly with topics to which students have before been exposed. The KWL chart worked particularly effectively during a lesson on slavery in colonial America in my AP US History class. With an issue as important and charged as slavery, my mentor teacher and I wanted to make sure we weren’t just covering what students already knew about the oppressive institution. We wanted to get them to start questioning deeper into the institution itself — question slavery in ways they had never thought to before.

We began that particular lesson on slavery, then, with students writing down what it was they felt they knew. We then had students write down remaining questions they had about it — what they still wanted to learn, gaps in their own knowledge and understanding. We then asked students to share these questions with the class, and wrote several of them on the board. As students began sharing, more thought up new and thought-provoking questions like how did this all begin? Why African slaves in particular? What about guilt? Morality? Does morality itself change with time? How do we reconcile anachronistic notions of “right and wrong” when studying slavery? Are we willing to forego morality for profit always? Do we do this now? How directly in front of us need oppression be to see it as wrong?

These types of questions got the whole class reeling. They were stimulated by their classmates’ questions, and kept coming up with more of their own. They were so genuinely curious, astonished, confused, and angered by the whole institution in a way I am certain many had not been before. The energy in the classroom was intense — I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.

When my mentor teacher began showing images to the students of the Middle Passage ships, shackles, whips, the students shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They didn’t keep quiet though. Once the questions had begun, there was no stopping them. The students now knew what they wanted to know, and they wanted their questions answered right then and there. They realized some of their bigger questions would never be satisfactorily answered that day, and that was an important lesson to learn.

At the end of the lesson we asked that students write a third column after “What I know” and “What I want to know,” titled “What I learned.” The students took up the last five minutes of class writing fiercely away. We plan to collect these notes during our next notebook check to see what questions they felt we answered, and what new questions the lesson spurred in them. What we were most interested in, of course, is getting these students to think in a different way — a more investigative, anthropological, intense, critical way — about slavery than they ever had. I think we achieved what we had set out to do. Those KWL charts will certainly tell us more.