On the Digital Citizenship Trail: Bushwakking Through Articles

I have been reading a lot of articles surrounding Mike Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship in order to better critique his perspective, and to see where I might improve upon his legacy. I use ‘legacy’ simply because Ribble’s work has become the benchmark of what school systems far and wide have loosely adopted as their own framework for incorporating digital literacy into their schools. It’s tricky because, although Ribble has been sharing his template since as early as 2004, there still isn’t a lot of critical takes (that I’ve found anyways) on the efficacy of the program, and how it might be improved.

Boyle (2010) in his dissertation on The Effectiveness of a Digital Citizenship Curriculum in an Urban School does a through job of describing and analyzing each of Ribble’s 9 Elements, much of it seemingly speaking on Ribble’s behalf, which in large part is his major reference throughout the +90 page dissertation. The actual research activity on measuring the effectiveness of a digital citizenship curriculum is positive, but has some holes.

Each of the 9 elements were tested independently of one another, and in every one save digital security and digital access, there were significant gains between the control group and the experimental group. Boyle used Bailey and Ribble’s Digital Driver’s License, as a pre and post measure, which is where one begins to question the validity of the study. Taking a look at this driver’s license, one might quickly notice that there are very few questions under each of the 9 element headings, only two in fact. Using the same test as pre and post is already sending up red flags, but with only two questions, even if students completely forgot about the content on the pretest, one wonders how many students were able to make educated guesses that could have swayed the answers.

Another flaw with the study was in how the content was taught. Boyle had the unfortunate issue of his content not being as important as the need to “prepare students for the Microsoft Application Certified Specialist” (p.39) designation, which took ‘precedent’ in the Computer Information Systems course. So, instead of the content being interwoven into the entire semester’s curriculum, it was instead all taught in four lessons, in a period of two weeks, and student output was to be in an oral presentation format. The lessons themselves are direct instruction, followed by a ‘watch a video and reflect’ prompt.

I think we can do better.

Were I to undertake this study, I would first of all ensure that my lessons are relevant, motivating, and are specific to each of the skills I am teaching. The lessons would also be stepping off points for actual situations students would be expected to navigate in class, such as having the opportunity to work on Google Classroom with a group, and to model ‘netiquette’ while working on a project that might also have students finding images online in a responsible fashion.

The assessment tools would need to be more comprehensive. Rather than simply rely on Ribble’s 9 question survey, a larger database of questions relevant to each of the 9 questions would need to be created to ensure student comprehension.

Aside from this assessment, more natural ways of assessing individual student ability would be to continue tracking their progress through a well developed digital citizenship curriculum. Simply putting all your eggs in one basket with a 5 minute questionnaire like the digital driver’s license isn’t going to make anyone a competent digital citizen.

Miller & Ribble’s Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically (2013) is in many ways a retread of Ribble’s Digital Citizenship for Educational Change (2012). Both articles make the point for educators to wake up and realize that we don’t have a plan for Digital Citizenship, that’s a problem, and here’s my 9 element framework to assist you in creating your own division/school/classroom Digital Citizenship curriculum. One thing in the article by Miller & Ribble did stand out however, concerning laws being set by different states regarding cyber bullying. “Bill AB 746 gave California school administrators the ability to suspend or recommend expulsion when social networks were used for cyberbullying” (Miller & Ribble, p.138). What current legislation do we have in Saskatchewan? In the document Saskatchewan’s Action Plan to Address Bullying and Cyberbullying (2013) doing a quick ctrl+f search for ‘administrator,’ ‘consequence,’ ‘police,’ ‘suspend,’ etc. turned up nothing. I had suspected that there would have been mention of this in provincial literature simply because our schools are provincially run, not federally.

At about this point I started wandering into the mess that is Bill C-13, Canada’s anti-bullying legislation. Here’s a scary video that sends the message home:

Peter MacKay is creepy…

Taking a look at the conversation over the passing of this bill at openparliament.ca opens up a lot of directions of inquiry. Many MP’s were upset at the Bill due to the ability of prosecutors and law enforcement to have full access to anyone’s private records via their service providers.

As well, in response to Bill C-13, the Canadian Bar Association provided their own critique of the bill to amend any problems they foresee occurring when it being used to prosecute. Right off the bat they contradict MacKay on his stance as Bill C-13 being created to protect teens being victimized by cyberbullying:

“While Bill C-13 does not actually enhance protection of children and youth who are victims of cyberbullying, the proposed offence would offer prosecutors an important alternative when dealing with people under 18 alleged to have disseminated intimate images of other youth. The Bill provides a more moderate option for prosecuting youths who disseminate intimate images of their peers without consent than the existing child pornography provisions, which are harsher both in penalty and associated stigma.

Cyberbullying is clearly a serious issue for children and youth in Canada. However, the criminal law should be considered a tool of last resort when dealing with young offenders, and not all incidents of cyberbullying by youths should be characterized as criminal acts. For most youthful perpetrators, an educational or diversionary response is more appropriate.” (p.3-4)

Lisa M. Austin and Andrew Clement, both profs at the UofT in Law and Information respectfully, wrote an editorial for the Toronto Star. In it they agreed with the sentiments shared by the MP’s as well as the Canadian Bar in that this Bill is less about cyberbullying, and more about finding ways to open access to personal privacy via service providers. They state that “the issue is not whether to grant access to telecommunications data but whether this access occurs within a framework that protects constitutional rights and ensures transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, Bill C-13 is accountability-light.

“What we need is an approach that subjects different analytic techniques to scrutiny to assess their privacy impacts and effectiveness, as well as safeguards for how the data of individuals who are not under suspicion is accessed, used, stored and shared.”

So, aside from the mess that is that bill, as educators and school divisions we’re still at the point where what rights do we have to properly deal with these issues? If clearly schools are stepping up to be the responsible ones to teach kids how to use technology properly, and how to safely and respectfully navigate the ‘digital world,’ so too should we provide students with the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, instead of being given a $5000 fine, but if schools do not have the right to suspend or provide consequences to students cyberbullying, then we risk some of those we teach not feeling that there is any real consequence until it is too late for them or for those they have chosen to target.

And now, here’s a meme:


4 thoughts on “On the Digital Citizenship Trail: Bushwakking Through Articles

  1. Oof! That sure is a lot of bushwakking for sure! This issue is difficult, not least because while we are being cautioned by Ohler to treat students as whole people, there are parts of that that I question. There is at least one school district in California that has monitored student social media accounts. It started in 2013 but as far as I can tell, they are still doing it (unless it quietly died out for this school year). Thinking back to how things were in the past, anything outside school time was not my school’s business unless it happened on school grounds. There are certainly awesome things that could come out of this like finding out if there are students at risk but danah boyd questions things like this that are to protect students but involve privacy invasions of students who are more at risk but then get less protection. So what do you think about cyber bullying outside of school time or off school property/grounds (including off digital property so not using school computers or ipads or not on a school website)?

    1. Great comment! I too am wary about the idea that schools need to police this 24/7. It seems like a cop out that because parents aren’t educated to the risks and issues, they can play the naive card and expect schools to not only teach the students to be good digital citizens, but to also police their behaviour. I think that schools and their family communities need to both be on the same page about what good digital citizenship looks like, but you’re absolutely right about the issues that could potentially blow up, and the added responsibility on schools to be accountable to these problems. It’s in such a grey area here in Saskatchewan, and it could likely be a reason why schools might be avoiding integrating this so fully into their schools.

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