Category Archives: alec couros

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.

Where did they learn it from? Who cares?

Here is a video I did for LearnTeachLead, discussing “Global Possibilities for Learning”.

In the video I discuss the simple notion of the “cup song”, made famous by the movie “Pitch Perfect”. If you have never seen the movie, the main character played by Anna Kendrick, does a musical tryout with a “cup song”. Seeing this, I was blown away and immediately went home and googled where she learned this from.  In a clip from David Letterman, she explains how she sees a video she found on Reddit, and it eventually made it’s way into the movie.

Here is the original:

Most people don’t even know this original video existed, and Anna Kendrick, a major celebrity who has been acting since she was a child , picked this up and shared it in a movie that makes over 180 millions dollars domestically.

I always ask people if they have seen kids do this before, and I ask the following questions;

Who did they learn this from? Who cares?

The importance is that they learned, and we have to recognize that there are opportunities now for learning that we couldn’t even imagine.

In the image created by my brother, Alec Couros, the power in today’s world is not just that we can consume, but we can share back. Learning is not a one way street, and the places we can learn from have grown exponentially. Our students and our schools, need to tap into this.


Image created by Alec Couros

What Success (and Learning) Really Looks Like

I love the image below from comedian Demetri Martin on what “success” really looks like:


The “messiness” of the work, and the ups and downs, are all part of what someone must embrace to get to the next level.  I heard a quote once that resonated with me that said, “it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.”  We sometimes don’t realize the ups and downs someone has gone through to move from one point to another.

But what if I took the same image and made a slight alteration?

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 8.43.40 AM

Does it still make sense?

The image on the left reminds me of a textbook. Flip the page, flip the page, flip the page, until you get to some end point.  Where as the picture on the right shows the ups and downs of learning to develop and create something moving forward.  This video that I first saw shared from my brother, and has been shared often, shows the “ups and downs” of learning.

What I love about this video is that it it shows the messiness of the “process of learning”, as opposed to simply the “product”.  Audri doesn’t only show how his creation worked, but he understands and embraces there will be missteps along the way.  His enthusiasm for his success would not be as sweet if he did not show you where things failed.  I am not a firm believer in “embracing failure”, but I do believe that it is crucial to understand that failure is often a part of truly powerful learning.  How do we get back up to move to that next stage?  That is what is essential.

When I was a kid, Pluto was a planet, and we realize that some information changes over time. However, the ability to learn, including understanding the messiness of it all, is a skill that lasts a lifetime.  The process is as important, if not more so, than the product.

How do you embrace the “messiness”?

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.)