The episode in brief:
• Digital citizenship merges civics, character education & technology use
• Merging networks leads stakeholders out of silos to collaborate
• Global movement gathers steam with #digcitsummit
• Nine elements of digital citizenship
• Anyone can help kids build empathy & navigate digital world
With so many pressing needs in today’s society, to avoid “reinventing the wheel” is a top priority for most organizations. But how will you know what has already been invented unless you are connected to, and collaborating with, others working on the same problem? Many of you recognize online harassment of individuals, especially children, as a high-priority problem. In this episode of The Social Network Show we heard from one of the organizers of the first Digital Citizenship Summit, held at University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT, on October 3, 2015. It brought together many people and groups working on this and related problems. Dr. Marialice (Mari Alice) Curran is assistant professor of education at the University of St. Joseph.
Dr. Curran elaborated on the importance having been a middle school teacher has in her life today. It is central to her identity and current activities because she knows so well that change defines early adolescence. Three questions cycle continuously in the minds of young people this age: Who am I? How do others view me? Where do I fit in?
Because digital communication is a constant with kids these days, there is a permanence to the various persona that young adolescents try on during this time. Learning to behave in the digital space is a crucial part of education, so that students can be informed and empowered.
But educators such as Marialice realize that few challenges are met effectively by one discipline alone. Creating interdisciplinary synergy was a key goal of The Digital Citizenship Summit. The plans for it began when Dr. Curran was connected with another person interested in the topic, David Ryan Polgar (@techethicist), an attorney, ethicist, and educator who has also been a guest on The Social Network Show. Although they both live in West Hartford, it took a mutual connection in California to inform each one of the other’s existence.
Digital citizenship involves teaching students to be safe, savvy, and ethical. Helping them think and act at a local, global, and digital level simultaneously. Dr. Curran wanted to see digital citizenship be more than an add-on to conferences and training. So she and David Ryan Polgar planned a one-day conference entirely devoted the subject, inviting parents, teachers, attorneys, tech industry professionals, and others to meet together. Merging their networks resulted in a varied set of stakeholders cutting across many disciplines, getting people out of their silos to collaborate on solutions.
They made liberal use of the hashtag #digcitsummit in connecting interested Twitter users. Now a website is devoted to future summits, where you can learn about presentations there and plans for the future. Dr. Curran has received numerous inquiries from other countries, such as Australia, Spain, and Scotland, seeking advice on holding their own Digital Citizenship Summit. In addition to holding the Digital Citizenship Summit annually, she and David are supporting the events that are part of larger conferences. They are very excited to see their efforts resulting in global connections.
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Digital citizenship is akin to civics and character education. Marialice emphasized the difference between reputation (what you do when you know others are watching) versus character (when you think no one is watching you, such as anonymous communication online). Empathy is key. You may think someone’s most embarrassing moment is hilarious, but what if they were someone you care about? In teaching a course for incoming freshmen at University of St. Joseph, “Pleased to Tweet You,” the class explored online empathy—finding it and creating it. In addition, in teaching a first-year seminar, she had the class read the young adolescent book, Wonder, as did a middle school class they connected with, following up with a “Wonder Day” at the middle school.
Where can you start promoting digital citizenship? Dr. Mike Ribble identifies nine elements of digital citizenship on digitalcitizenship.net. Any one interacting with children, from kindergarten on up, can promote one or more of these elements, be they parents, teachers, coaches, members of religious organizations, extracurricular instructors of music, art, or dance, counselors, nurses or physicians. Not to be overlooked is the central importance of helping students themselves take the lead in consulting on and planning interventions to teach and increase digital citizenship.
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Marialice Curran, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Education
Although she has a doctoral degree and years of experience in higher education, Marialice Curran primarily sees herself as a middle school teacher. “And actually,” she said, “nothing makes me prouder.” She draws on her experience as a middle school teacher and principal in her work at USJ: “Whether I’m teaching graduate students who are classroom teachers or first-year students navigating their first semester, I rely on my understanding of the developmental needs of young adolescents.”
Teaching Digital Citizenship
Much of her work today focuses on iCitizenship — what she describes as “teaching what it means to be socially responsible, whether it’s online or face to face.” It is a topic that has grown in awareness as more and more young people have suffered the effects of cyber bullying. “If we are not teaching digital citizenship, we are doing a disservice,” she said in a segment* that ran on NBC Connecticut, Channel 30.
Curran factored iCitizenship into two recent courses: a First Year Seminar (FYS) entitled Pleased to Tweet You: Are You a Socially Responsible Digital Citizen? and a graduate course, Technology for Learners. “Today’s students will live their lives digitally connected and need to be educated accordingly,” she said.
Ph.D., Boston College
M.Ed., Lesley University
B.A., University of Arizona