Category Archives: digital citizenship

Positive, Negative or Neutral? Crucial Conversations on Digital Citizenship

THE NE“Along with planes, running water, electricity, and motorized transportation, the internet is now a fundamental fact of modern life.” ― Danah BoydW YOU

Working with students recently, we were discussing digital footprints.  A few students were fine with me googling their names in front of the group, and there was nothing that they were embarrassed of at all.  Lots of social interactions; nothing bad, but nothing good.

I then asked them the following:

Me: Have you been told not to do bad things online?

Student: Yes.

Me: How about good things?

Student: Never.

These particular students were telling me about things that they were doing in their lives that were absolutely amazing and made an impact on so many others, but their online presence would never tell you that.  To share some of the things that they were passionate about and how they served others, was not on their radar.

When I asked them why that was, the “cool factor” came to light.  They shared that as a teen, sometimes sharing the positives of what you do might be up for criticism, and that they were so influenced by their peers.  Sharing the “positives” was not what social media was for.

Is this perhaps because this is a generation being guided only by their peers, and not getting input from adults?

There is part of me where I struggle with suggesting how others use social media.  One part says “leave it alone” because your space is your space. Kids gravitate towards things like snapchat, and then all of sudden educators are trying to figure out how to use snapchat for education.  It reminds me of this scene from 30 Rock with Steve Buscemi:

fellow kids


The other part of me says in a world where the majority of our students will be googled for jobs, university, or other things, the more we educate the better.  Would it better if people seeing these footprints were going “Wow!” or “eh”?  In an article that is already five years old, Forbes wrote “5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years“; how have we helped with this reality?

Here are few thoughts that I think are crucial when having these conversations with students:

  1. Is your footprint positive, negative, or neutral?  What would others say that don’t know you?
  2. How do you want to be perceived offline? How about online? Is there a difference in your actions in those spaces?
  3. It is important to show who you are as a person, but to also understand that this is a an open room and to be thoughtful of others.  Have fun but not at the expense of someone else.

I tweeted the following while listening to Alec Couros (my brother) and Dean Shareski at ISTE recently:

The whole notion of “digital citizenship” is a messy conversation, but it is definitely one we need to have with our students to ensure that they have all of the opportunities to find and create their own path moving forward.

Crucial “Digital Citizenship” Conversations

An educator in one of my workshops asked me, “I know you are big into Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to be the network of choice for students, so why should I use it?”

My response was that it is not about what kids consider “cool”, but more the ability to learn to network through these social spaces.  I referenced a blog post I wrote on the idea of “3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School“, and here were the ideas that were listed in a shortened form:

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Now, each one of those are not “set” and they can look quite different.  Although has changed in the last little while, I still think it is great to have some type of individual “landing page”, similar to what I would consider a “digital cover letter”.  This post was less about absolutes and more about really thinking how we set our students up for success in the world we live in currently and in the future.  If a student had straight A’s in school but we googled them and their social feeds were filled with inappropriate messages, I know I wouldn’t be comfortable hiring them. Would most employers?

Revisiting the initial question, I listed a “professional social network”. This doesn’t mean Twitter or “LinkedIn for kids”,  but more about how to find others in areas that they are interested in.  For example, if a student would want to be a professional photographer, Instagram or Flickr would probably be the first place they look and share, not necessarily Twitter.  For educators though, Twitter has a huge network of educators that are already opening to collaborate, but it is also not only the network. I am seeing more people share to spaces such as Voxer and even Reddit, to further their learning in education, while also creating networks with others.  It is more the skill of networking and the opportunities provided than it is which space you choose.  It is not about what is “cool” for kids. We do not need to “edufy” each social network because are kids are on it. They also need spaces to be kids.

This all being stated, I was blown away by this post from Jenn Scheffer and her students speaking about “Digital Citizenship”. Here are some of their comments:

“While the general attitude on social media in the high school setting is typically a negative one, plagued by claims that sites such as Twitter are breeding grounds for inappropriate use and bullying, Burlington High School exhibits a much different attitude. Simply writing off the legitimate uses of social media based on archaic beliefs that it is harmful to students just will not do anymore as schools, such as Burlington, are utilizing the many benefits of social networking. The interactions between teachers, students, and administrators on various social media sites create a safe and productive online community. These interactions, which occur inside and outside of school, connect members of the school community in an effective and mutually beneficial way.” Caroline Akerley

“Twitter is one of the most powerful social media tools in the world. According to the company’s fact sheet, there are 320 million monthly active users on Twitter. But how many of them are used in a positive way? Check out my twitter handle HERE to see how I use Twitter in a positive way. When checking out my Twitter account please realize how professional my account really is! In the last year I have turned my social media status around completely. I realized how important it is to my digital profile and that it could effect my future! I have participated in multiple “#techteamMA” Twitter chats that are a great example on how to use Twitter in a positve way. Please view the pictures that I have provided that show clear cut examples on how much potential Twitter has to be used in a positive way!” Josh Boulos

“With the ever expanding world of social media, whether we like it or not, global perceptions are formed based on how we communicate as members of our digital society. These perceptions can be positive or negative and to some degree influenced and shaped by how we are using digital tools. I admit while social media has its share of negative views, I also believe the positives outweigh them. This beliefs stems from using social media tools and more specifically, YouTube. I use YouTube as a means of relaxing, entertainment, and education. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade and haven’t heard about it, YouTube is a multipurpose website that offers many different ideas such as browsing popular videos, listening to music, or uploading and sharing a video. One of the things I love about YouTube are “YouTubers” or the people around the world who use professionally and I enjoy YouTubers who play video games as part of their channel.” Shiv Shukla

A few things…

First of all, these are amazing conversations these students are having about both the positives and negatives of social media (seriously read the whole post because it is amazing). Secondly, I am not saying it is a direct result, but I know a lot about the leadership at these schools and these are conversations that the educators are having with the students.  They are having an impact.  Lastly, do your students talk like this in your schools? Are they even having these conversations with the educators in the building?

One of the things that I ask schools is “who teaches digital citizenship in your schools?” Often, I get a response of a teacher that may specialize in it.  Then I follow up by asking, “Who teaches manners?”  Of course they say that is everyone’s responsibility.  The more we see “digital citizenship” as simply “citizenship” and part of what we do our world, the closer we will get to realizing that this is all of our responsibility as educators.  It is pretty amazing to see when schools focus on this, how much they truly the empower the voice and genius of their own students as shared in the example above.

Figuring It Out for Themselves?

William Chamberlain, an educator from Missouri and founder of the #comments4kids hashtag that encourage people to comment on student posts, wrote a post on the notion of the “connected classroom”, and this quote resonated:

“Posting information does not make your students connected.”

That distinction is important as I have seen where educators have mixed up their perspectives on their sharing, being the same as their students sharing.  Although it is important to model this type of learning, we do need to create opportunities where students can create those connections from themselves.

Think of this…Perhaps the best person to teach students about space is not necessarily a teacher, but an astronaut. How do we connect our students to those experts, but more importantly, how do we teach kids to create those connections themselves?

Yet this notions of teaching students how to connect seems to fall to the select few in a school as opposed to everyone.  To me, it would be the same as having a “manners” teacher; this is all of our responsibility in schools if we are truly helping our students in the world in which we all live.


They (kids) might understand technology,  but not necessarily the impact it can have long term on their learning and their life.  We need to be a part of this, not simply stand on the side and hope it all works out for the best.

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Not Waiting for Tomorrow


Doing a talk with over 1800 students recently, I went back and forth about encouraging such a large group of students to use a hashtag.  This is something I do all of the time with educators, but many students are savvy with technology, but not necessarily see the benefit for learning.  Since the focus was on using social media to make a positive difference, I decided that it only made sense to promote a hashtag, and in the last minute, I decided to use one. Before I shared it with the students, I said to them, “I trust you and I want you to be successful, so please use this in appropriate ways.”

I started my talk, and as I do often, the first time I showed a video, I checked the hashtag and my mentions. This is a great way to see what students are learning/sharing/thinking, but also a way to connect with an audience.  The first tweet that I saw was directed at me and extremely inappropriate.  This was followed by two more.

I was devastated.

My heart sank and since I just speak from the heart, I felt that my talk could have went in a more negative direction.  I caught my breath, and by the end of the video, I continued to speak.  I did make mention about how one little compliment can make someone’s day, and one negative can ruin it.  Then I asked the students, what would you rather do?

So then I saw one amazing tweet thanking me for being there and complimenting my presentation style.  I called out that student’s name, and said, “You have no idea how much of an impact you made on me by sharing that. Thank you.”

Then another student complimented me.

Then another.

And another.

And another.

And it went on and on and on.

And it started from that one young man’s tweet.

By shining the light and giving the attention to the person that did something positive, kindness went viral in the room, and honestly, caught on the rest of the day. In fact, by the end when I took questions, one student asked me, “Can I give you a hug?”

I could have easily shut everything down, but that wouldn’t have made the room better, or myself. By focusing on what kids can do to make a difference, and saying, “I trust you”, the tide in the room changed quickly.

So what did I learn that day?

We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.

I ended the day telling students, you don’t have to wait until you’re out of school to change the world. Go lead today.

Thank you to the one student that made a ripple effect of positivity in the room, that not only impacted me, but led the way for others.

Protecting or Ignoring?

Kids are learning a distorted view of the digital world “that reflects the fears of adults rather than the aspirations of youth.” Alia Wong

There is this notion that ignoring social media in schools is a way of protecting our kids from the dangers of the web. Blocking sites like YouTube shields are kids from the inappropriate content they may find, and blocking kids from services like Twitter or Instagram will preserve them from online bullying. The reality of this mindset is that “ignoring” is protecting. It’s kind of like saying, we do not want kids to get in an accident in a car so we won’t teach them to drive. It doesn’t make much sense.

If we are really protecting our kids, we would teach, not ignore. In a world where being “googled” is more the norm than the exception, not guiding our students seems almost like the opposite of protecting. It seems like we are saying, “not our problem”.

Not good enough.

Never mind the power we have to connect, learn, and help kids create opportunities for themselves.  In a great article by Alia Wong titled, “Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web” (you should read the whole thing), the author quotes Danah Boyd on the need to educate on the intricacies of the web:

“Teens will not become critical contributors to this [Internet] ecosystem simply because they were born in an age when these technologies were pervasive.

Neither teens nor adults are monolithic, and there is no magical relation between skills and age. Whether in school or in informal settings, youth need opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge to engage with temporary technology effectively and meaningfully. Becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age.” Danah Boyd

Am I saying that there are not dangers out there? Absolutely not. But helping our kids learn to navigate the messiness and complexities of our world is more likely to protect our students than pretending the Internet doesn’t exist in the first place.

(If you want to explore further, check out this in depth document on “Digital Citizenship in Education” created by Katia Hildebrandt and Alec Couros for Saskatchewan Education, that offers a “roadmap for building appropriate school division policies and school-specific digital citizenship guidelines and procedures” as well as several ideas on implementation for digital citizenship education.)

Find the Awesome, Create the Awesome

Below is a visual from a cool site called Tweetping ( that shows all of the tweets at a given moment happening real time.

(The site is pretty neat to watch and this video is not as current as the website but hopefully you get the idea.)

I often show a video capture of this site, as to let people know that even though I am quite the optimist, I understand that at any point, in all of those tweets, there is horrible stuff being shared.

I know this and I get it.

What I really believe we need to do with our students, is not only help them find the awesome stuff, but to create it.

Jennifer Casa-Todd writes a great post on this topic, and shows how young people are using technology to make a positive impact on the lives of others:

Students use technology and social media to…

1.  empower others who have no voice
2.  address societal inequality
3.  promote important causes
4.  learn and share their learning
5.  be a more positive influence in the lives of others

And here are some great examples of kids doing this right now:

  • @ThatHannahAlper (Hannah Alper) uses social media to enpower and inspire–just check out her website, Call Me Hannah to see how she does this.  She is also a champion of environmental causes and just recently became a Youth Ambassador for Bystander Revolution, which is an organization taking a stand on bullying.
  • @Aidan_Aird, a 15 year old student in our District. created a website, Developing Innovations, “To inspire, celebrate and promote #STEM.”  Aird’s website states, “I realized there were lots of amazing kids out there working hard, creating and discovering amazing things. With them in mind, I created Developing Innovations…[which] has featured and celebrated over 65 young scientists from around the world on the website. There are so many hardworking young scientists out there that are trying to make a difference. By being featured on my website, they get the exposure they deserve and are encouraged to keep working hard. It is a place to celebrate their accomplishments and inspire other kids to follow in their footsteps.”
  • Jeremiah is a high school junior and creator of @westhighbros, a Twitter account that tweets compliments to friends and classmates.  Check out the video here. (shared by George Couros @gcouros)
  • Though Kid President (@Iamkidpresident)  gets a little help from Brad Montague, 10 yr-old Robby Novak definitely empowers others through his inspirational videos as well as his own story.  He is also a champion for important causes.  Currently, you can see him fighting child hunger by following the hashtag #hungerfreesummer or by checking out the video here.
  • Joshua ( @Joshua’s Heart) is a young man passionate about inspiring kindness in youth and stopping world hunger. Here is his keynote during the EduMatch Passion Pitch event hosted by @ShellTerrell and @SarahThomas found here.  More information about the great work he is doing can be found at

As Jennifer states in her post, it is easy to identify these kids as “outliers”, but our focus should be on making this the norm.

It is easy to complain that there is so much bad stuff online, so why not focus on teaching our students to inundate the web with the good?

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