Category Archives: #ECI832posts

Let’s Address Access: Analyzing the Digital Divide

There is much to be said about privilege, especially during the recent events of COVID-19. Do you have somewhere warm, comfortable, and safe to self-isolate during this time? Privilege. Do you have access to health care? Privilege. Can you drive your car to get groceries and do you have enough money to “stock up” on food or other necessities when you need them? Privilege.

It’s important to recognize your privilege in these situations of crisis because there are many who have overwhelming barriers in the way of accessing basic human rights.

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The most recent privilege that I have been analyzing in my own life, and in our world, is the access to internet and technology. The Digital Divide, “the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not”, is more clear now more than ever, especially since schools have closed due to the global pandemic. Every community, school division, and city is now facing this reality head on.

Since the recent school closures, it has become obvious that there are inequities among students and their families when it comes to technology. There are many physical boundaries that are in the way of connection and access. To help with these struggles, school boards and districts around the world are lending out technology and purchasing devices for students, but unfortunately, a lot of these procedures and actions take time. Catherine also poses an important question when it comes to lending out division-owned technology: “What are the risks and implications of this model?” In a time like now, it’s hard to know what the right answer is or how to best meet the needs of every family. Even if students do have mobile devices at home, Common Sense Media brings up an important point by saying, “while a majority of students have access to mobile devices, these devices do not offer students the same tools as an internet-enabled computer for research, reporting, creating, and connecting.” There are so many variables to factor into our decisions about online learning.

Access and connection are key in bridging the Digital Divide. So how do we address the needs of students and families who lack internet connection or access to technology? Instead of overlooking this important need, we need to come together as educators and do our part in this current crisis. Do I have all the answers? Absolutely not. However, I am hopeful that we can work together to help bridge the gap.

Lack of Access and Connection

Not only is it important to think about students’ access to technology itself, it’s also crucial to factor in how they are accessing the internet. With the COVID-19 procedures and laws, we are unable to use our community resources, such as libraries, coffee shops, or schools, to use Wi-Fi. Digital Access, “the equitable distribution of technology and online resources” is an important element in Mike Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship. In a recent interview I had with Mike Ribble on the EdTech Endeavours Podcast, we talked about the challenges that public school divisions are facing right now when implementing digital education access while making it equitable for all students.

He says that during our current world crisis, “it’s not just providing the tool… it’s the connection, it’s the internet access that’s needed.” One strategy that his district is implementing is providing hot spots for students so that they can continue their education while school buildings are closed. If the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declares internet a basic human right (2016), then we need to adapt and make it completely accessible for every student. Ribble reminds us that yes, “it is an expense, but if we’re going to really want all students… to still thrive within this time and still stay learning with their peers, then we have to provide those resources.”

Recently, CBC News interviewed Laura Tribe, the executive director of OpenMedia, and she opened up about the inequalities that our local communities are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to internet and technology access. She suggests “maybe this is the time to consider sharing your Wi-Fi. Or if you have an extra device lying around that would help someone who doesn’t have one, they could borrow it.” Stepping up to help those around us is not just something school divisions should be responsible for, it’s something we, as a society, should be doing, myself included.

Family Engagement
Another valuable point to consider when addressing the Digital Divide is our communication with families. Without reaching out to families and asking them what their needs are, we are missing the point. As educators, it is our job to include parents and kids in these conversations. By simply asking them how they are doing, finding out what their challenges are, and if they need access to technology or internet, we begin to understand what supports need to be put in place to encourage them and help them succeed. Last week, I attended a webinar put on by Common Sense Education called “Education Beyond the Margins; Meeting the Digital needs of Underserved Families.” They have a “whatever it takes” approach to connecting with families and empowering them in this time.

During this webinar, they suggested using practical tools and resources when reaching newcomers who may have a language barrier. Using the app “Talking Points“, a “multilingual texting tool”, helps with communication and connection. If families are unable to access internet, it’s important that we adapt and reach them through other avenues. Instead of using the lack of technology as an excuse to stop communication with families, pick up a phone and call them.

Jennifer Gonzalez says that “in some cases where students & parents simply can’t be reached via Internet, regular phone calls are working for some teachers. To maintain privacy with your number, Google Voice may be an option.” Reach them in whatever way possible. Not only is internet connection a necessity for bridging the Digital Divide gap, but human connection is as well.

Now What?

As Mike Ribble states, it has become evident that “we will be different on the other side of this pandemic because of the things that we learn”. What if we used this time to really evaluate our inequities as a society and plan for a fair future?

As we continue to venture into the unknown, I will cling to the words of George Couros: “equity at the highest level, not simply equity, is something that we should always strive for in education. Every student should have the best opportunities to learn in ways that will help them now and in the future.”

Media Literacy: We Need it Now More Than Ever

It’s hard to explain the emotions and thoughts that we are all experiencing right now. It has been an overwhelming time for all of us to say the least. During a time of uncertainty, there are many news outlets and platforms that are filling our social media feeds and minds. Even though it’s easy to get caught up in reading everything that comes our way, like I find myself doing in a time like now, it’s important to listen, watch, and read with a critical lens and an open heart.

Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

As we venture through this unfamiliar time of crisis and confusion, there is no better time to prioritize the skills and actions that surround media literacy. You are probably wondering, what does media literacy even entail and why is it important? Before we break down media literacy, it’s important to understand literacy, which is “the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world.” Even though the outcome of literacy is to read, write, and speak, there are still many skills and elements that come into play before that happens. When you think about the act of reading, you not only need to decode the words, but you also need to comprehend what you’re reading. On top of that, early level readers have basic skills, but as you advance with reading, you develop deeper level thinking skills, such as understanding themes, recognizing biases, or analyzing the text.

Similar to the skills of literacy, “media literacy”, which falls under the category of information literacy, involves many different elements and components. According to Common Sense Media, media literacy is “the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending.” When we see an image, article, or video online, there are different ways we can try to understand the message it is trying to portray. Common Sense Media gives a list of essential questions that kids can ask when they view various types of media:

  • Who created this?
  • Why did they make it?
  • Who is the message for?
  • What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable?
  • What details were left out, and why?
  • How did the message make you feel?
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These questions will help students reflect on important details about the media they take in and will help them analyze biases that might be present. Most of the time, kids will be viewing these images, articles, or videos on their devices and will be using “digital literacy” skills to sift through media. The term digital literacy “specifically applies to media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and other nontraditional sources”, stated by Common Sense Media. Shelby reminds us that “it is greatly important to be literate online, especially with all the misinformation and the dangers that it presents.” Since students are most likely to be using social media to get their news and information, “our job to teach digital literacy to students is more important than ever” as Catherine says.

In an earlier blog post, I talk about the strategies that educators can use in order to teach students how to sift through information online so that they can critically take in media. I talk about:

  • Taking Note of the Digital Exposure and Experience in the Lives of our Students: Understand that “each student will have a different level of knowledge when using online tools and social media platforms”, so that we can teach them media literacy skills at their level.
  • Teaching Bias: This is important because “it’s not about teaching students right or wrong, it’s about giving them the skills they need in order to make an informed decision for themselves.”
  • Fact Checking & Reading Laterally: We need to check the source and validate the information with other tools, websites, and avenues.

I recently found another great way to help students learn more about navigating the internet during this trying time. John Green, who partnered with MediaWise, has put out various videos to help us “evaluate the information you read online.” They have put out a series of videos that teach us how to:

  • “Examine information using the same skills and questions as fact-checkers”
  • “Read laterally to learn more about the authority and perspective of sources”
  • “Evaluate different types of evidence, from videos to infographics”
  • “Understand how search engines and social media feeds work”

These critical thinking skills that exhibit media literacy are so valuable in the world we currently live in. It’s crucial that we follow the right steps when we take in information or news at this time so that we can think logically and respond appropriately. As we journey through these rocky waters together, let’s also not forget the importance of empathy and reflection. Through this time of unpredictability, let us use our online skills for good to remind us that we are in this together.

-Amanda

(Digital) Citizenship… It’s More Than What You Think

Digital Citizenship.

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

What is it? Is it important? How do we teach it?

Those are questions that are often asked by teachers and administrators who are unaware of the topic or don’t see the value in it. So let’s start by breaking it down.

According to dictionary.com, a digital citizen is “a person who develops the skills and knowledge to effectively use the Internet and other digital technology, especially in order to participate responsibly in social and civic activities.”

There is some truth to this, but there has to be more to it.

If we want to truly understand what it means to be a digital citizen, we need to understand citizenship. Being a good citizen goes even further than being a responsible member of our world. Being a positive citizen means living with purpose and giving back to the world we live in. So just as we intend to teach our students how to be active, contributing, and caring citizens in our world, the same goes for the online world. It’s important to note that “digital citizenship requires the same integrity, respect and care for others as real world citizenship”, as Andrew Kovalcin says.

As teachers, it’s our responsibility to authentically integrate digital citizenship into the curriculum in a positive way. It’s about developing active and caring citizens in our classrooms who want to make change online. Trevor makes a good point when he says that “students must be taught that the digital world is actually the real world, there is no difference. Therefore, their actions, behaviours, and words online should resemble the person they are when not using technology.”

Along with integrating positive citizenship into our classrooms, we need to develop critical thinkers as well. The article, “How Finland Starts its Fight Against Fake News in Primary Schools”, talks about the success that Finland has had when teaching students the skills of “thinking critically, fact-checking, interpreting and evaluating all the information you receive.” They focus on integrating these skills among every subject area so that it becomes second nature to them. It’s important to recognize that even though students might seem tech-savvy, or are looked at as “digital natives”, they still need to be taught these critical thinking skills because these characteristics are developed over time, and are not automatic.

So how do we, as educators, teach our students to be digital citizens? First of all, we need to remember that “digital citizenship education is not intended to be a stand-alone unit, course or lesson, rather it is best learned and under- stood when taught in context through supported online practice and real-life examples and experiences”, according to Saskatchewan’s Digital Citizenship Policy Planning Guide.

When it comes to teaching our students to be thriving digital citizens, ISTE says that it is more about the “do’s” rather than the “don’ts”. They say “it’s about being active citizens who see possibilities instead of problems and opportunities instead of risks as they curate a positive and effective digital footprint.” They also come up with a list of attributes that make up a positive digital citizen.

ISTE’s 5 Competencies of Digital Citizenship is a list that every teacher can focus on when raising digital citizens in their classrooms.

Along with teaching students the 5 Competencies of a Digital Citizen, it’s important that we encourage our students to be motivated citizens online. In a previous blog post, I talk about the importance of raising digital leaders in a digital age who feel empowered to use tools online for good. I bring up a quote by George Couros who says that students need to learn how to be digital leaders who use “the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.”

As we progress in a digital age, we as educators need to progress in our practices. We need to be aware of the value and importance of raising online citizens who are critical thinkers and world changers…

…because after all “educators can no longer ignore their roles in helping students to develop as digital citizens; schools must respond to the changing needs of our learners in order to prepare them for our rapidly changing world” (Saskatchewan’s Digital Citizenship Policy Planning Guide).

As I say in the video I created about what it means to be a (digital) citizen:

While it’s important that a digital citizen knows how to be safe and responsible online, we need to remember that we can’t stop there. Let’s encourage digital citizens who want to lead and inspire.

I am a (digital) citizen. Are you?

Establishing a Thriving (Digital) Identity

Arifranklin via ourpangea

When I think back to my first years on the Internet, it consisted of writing on Facebook walls, creating Piczo websites, and having scheduled chats on MSN Messenger. During those early days of online connection, there wasn’t a lot of guidance or instruction because it was new for everyone. My parents and teachers didn’t bring it up in conversation or teach me about online ethics because it seemed harmless at the time. Over the years, the Internet has evolved into what it is now… a beautiful way for people to connect and create, but with a bit of a darker side than the “good ol’ days”. When I first started using social media, my online identity was separate from my “real” identity. It took time and effort to connect to the internet, log into my social media accounts, and navigate the internet. Now that technology has evolved, we have access to the online world at any waking moment… so is my digital identity still separate?

Before we get into the discussion of whether there is a difference between our real identity and digital identity, it’s important to know what a digital identity even entails. Our digital identities “include how we present ourselves and interact in digital spaces” as stated in “Research Writing Rewired: Lessons That Ground Students’ Digital Learning” by Dawn Reed and Troy Hicks. They also explain how our digital footprints “speak to this identity as we leave tracks that give information about ourselves in online spaces.” Our actions and words have have significant contributions to our online identity, so doesn’t that mean our online identity and our offline identity go hand in hand?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

According to ISTE, “as our digital connections and interactions grow, the lines between our education and personal lives, our career and private activities, become blurred.”

Our physical lives are intertwined with our online lives now more than ever, so it’s time that we equip not only ourselves with the positive tools to thrive in this digital world, but also our students. In order for us to do that, we as teachers need to be aware of what kind of digital footprint we are leaving behind. In a recent blog post, Shelby mentions that “leading by example and setting expectations for students is the real way to get them to listen and think about what they are doing online.” She says that instead of living a “perfect” digital identity, it’s more important to live a real digital identity “showcasing that we are indeed human too, making mistakes and also having lots of different opinions, talents, and interests beyond just being teachers.”

So how can we model, lead, and teach our students to have a thriving digital identity that isn’t so separate from their everyday lives? We can teach them how to maintain positive citizenship, whether it’s online or offline, and better yet, we can encourage active leadership within them.

Here are some important ways that we ourselves can have a positive identity online and offline to make the world a better place, and in turn, teach our students to do the same.

Create and Cultivate Community

Just like our personal and professional lives can only function through human connection and relationship, our online lives need the same. There are many social media platforms that we use for connecting with others, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. We can use these tools to maintain positive connections with friends, family, and my personal learning network. Yes, these platforms can be used negatively, but that is why we need to instil digital citizenship within our students. If we do this, they will understand the benefits of having an online community and take pride in it. We have incredible opportunities to meet others, gain friendships, make connections, and build up a community through the social media and the internet.

Look at the Bright Side

It’s important that we learn the art of positivity in our day to day lives- and that includes the internet too. Using our words to uplift and encourage others online can make a positive ripple effect for the people around us. Teaching students how to bring positivity to the internet can outweigh the negativity. When we model this type of citizenship and leadership online, people start to see the good that the internet can bring.

Think Critically, Act Confidently

Critical thinking is an important skill for us to have when we face new experiences and challenges in our lives. It’s especially important now as we navigate this world of “fake news” and fake profiles. It’s valuable and crucial to think before you share, that you analyze new information, to always check the source, stay aware of your security, and the list goes on. However, instead of instilling fear in ourselves and our students, let’s give them the confidence they need to address these topics with problem solving skills so that they are aware instead of scared.

Show You Care & Don’t Forget to Share

In order to build a thriving digital identity, it’s important that you do something instead of erasing your digital footprint completely. This goes much further than scrolling through social media and making a few comments here and there. A thriving digital identity means contributing to the online world around you by using social media and the internet for good. Let’s remember to model a thriving digital identity in our own lives so that our students are then inspired to become active, contributing members of the online world who leave a positive digital footprint that also points towards a better future.

Thriving (Digital) Identities

As you can see, there are a lot of different elements that make up a digital identity. However, it’s valuable to note that our digital identity is also just a part of our identity. What we do online is still a part of our real world and is still in our everyday lives. So as we keep moving forward from our MSN Messenger days, let’s use the means of community, positivity, and contribution to model and create identities that are thriving both online and offline.

-Amanda