Digital Pipeline: To Home and Back
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, Digital Citizenship Special Issue, 2020
By Kimberly Nava Eggett, M.Ed
“Are you coming to our class so we can play with robots?!” asked a curious seven-year-old at my elementary school. This conversation would not have taken place ten years ago, but these days, our students are constantly surrounded by innovative technology. They read text online to learn about the main idea of a topic or tinker with a robot to understand the basics of computer programming. Our students are digital natives that seek instructional technology in their learning environments.
I have watched this evolution take place over fifteen years. During that time I have worked as a 4th and 5th grade classroom teacher and, for the last seven years, I have been our school’s Digital Lead Teacher. My role is to support students, staff, and families as we consider thoughtful technology integration. We use innovative devices in our learning environments.
Parents and families are finding themselves faced with digital dilemmas at home. The amount of mobile media time has grown substantially in the last six years among 0 to 8-year-olds, with a daily time of 5 minutes in 2011 increasing to 48 minutes in 2017. Within that same age group, the number of kids with their own tablets has also risen from less than 1 percent in 2011 to 42 percent in 2017.
This means that parents and caretakers are faced with helping their children navigate the digital world when they themselves did not have the same experience. So how do we support them? Here are some ways that educators can help:
1. Be Transparent on Tech Use in the Classroom and Assume Nothing
Most districts or schools have an Acceptable Use Policy that requires transparency with respect to how students can be expected to use technology in the classroom. Share this policy and/or your guidelines with students, families, and colleagues in order to be clear on how tech is used and how students are expected to interact online. Having clear expectations with regard to how tech is used in the classroom helps proactively guide students and families.
Although most students know how to navigate digital tools, do not assume they know how to correctly engage in virtual classroom spaces. Thoughtfully set up your online classroom at the beginning of the year by explicitly guiding students through your online classroom expectations. Cultivate kindness in your virtual classroom by practicing appropriate commenting and sharing. Creating a safe learning environment, both off and online, helps students build healthy relationships with peers and their technology.
In order to help our families become familiar with how technology is being used in the classroom, share it with them! Whether you use Flipgrid, Seesaw, or Google Classroom, share login information so that students can demonstrate what they are doing at school. Since many parents may be unfamiliar with these tools, help them understand how instructional technology is being used in a transformative way in order to build skills and apply them in the virtual learning spaces.
Some of our families do not have consistent access to the Internet. Showcase these learning environments during your Parent/Teacher Conferences, Open House, or Curriculum Nights to further demystify these tools and to provide equitable access for families that cannot access them from home.
2. Utilize Free Resources or Host an Internet Safety Family Night!
From cyberbullying tips to setting up a device-free dinner, Common Sense Education has resources to support your classrooms and your families. The Common Sense Education Digital Citizenship Curriculum is utilized by almost 50% of all U.S. schools. This curriculum has a vertically aligned structure for many digital citizenship topics with lessons in K-12. These free resources support teachers as they engage students in conversations around privacy or media literacy.
Along with their Digital Citizenship curriculum, Common Sense Education has plenty of additional toolkits for educators to pull from in order to guide our families’ toughest questions. Another great resource is Google’s Be Internet Awesome campaign, which also has free resources to share with families in order to support students as they are building “good digital habits.” This curriculum provides free lessons for grades 2-6 by focusing on five topics: Smart, Alert, Strong, Kind, and Brave. Be Internet Awesome also has a free web-based game, Interland, that allows students to practice tough scenarios based on those five topics.
As a classroom teacher, I know it is important that students proactively discuss these topics, rather than waiting for something to “bubble up” in order for them to be addressed. Although it is great to be able to lean on a resource when digital drama arises (cyberbullying, excluding other students on platforms, etc.), giving students space to discuss these scenarios first may help reduce the number of drama-filled instances and better prepare them for real-life interactions.
Last year, our school hosted an Internet Safety session for parents and caregivers as part of a school-wide event. A small group of parents, caregivers, and their students came to learn more about media balance, checking privacy settings on personal devices and apps, and how to support students when tricky scenarios arise. Students spoke up about their experiences and asked great questions.
As the session facilitator, I reminded the attendees that they are all experts too, and that getting guidance from each other helps us understand how there are different ways of supporting our students at home. Families and caregivers should not feel that they are powerless as they discuss concerns that arise from their families’ use of technology.
3. Find Out the Best Way to Communicate with Your Families
These days, educators have plenty of free ways to connect with their families. From Class Dojo to Smore newsletters, our educators have the opportunity to share curriculum-rich links, pictures, and videos as well as important information. But not every parent or caregiver has equitable access to the Internet. Some prefer not to be connected.
Take an interest survey on how families would like you to connect with them. Be explicit on how you plan to use these tools and how you will protect their privacy and information. Can they expect a weekly newsletter or a daily Class Dojo message? Perhaps you will just send out an email with a Google Form for volunteer sign-ups around special classroom events every few months. Either way, allow for your families to opt-in and model how digital citizens protect personal data, privacy, and digital identity.
Finally, use the power of online tools to create a more language-inclusive space. Although most translation tools are not perfect, at least they provide a way to communicate with students and families who might not speak the dominant language in your school or class. As a native Spanish speaker, I often recommend Google Translate as a tool for educators who only speak English. Not only can it help translate when there are time-sensitive needs, but it shows that you acknowledge a family’s home language and want them to be part of the classroom community.
Some tools, such as Class Dojo and Seesaw, offer built-in translation features to ensure educators can communicate with all families. Students that are new to your classroom can also benefit from online translation tools. Microsoft Translator provides real-time captions for instruction in the student’s native language through a PowerPoint presentation or through the app.
There are many ways that educators can model good digital citizenship for their students, families, and fellow colleagues. Technology is a part of our classrooms and, as educators, we must explore how to make digital citizenship a part of our classroom conversations and management.
Kimberly Nava Eggett is a Digital Lead Teacher in Asheville, NC and currently a doctorate student at Appalachian State University seeking an Educational Leadership in Instructional Technology degree.