Reflections on Ribble’s Nine Elements, Two Trials and One Triumph
When I became a teacher, I was prepared to wear many hats – mentor, manager, motivator, counsellor, coach, and even social liaison (the list seems infinite). Technology was rapidly evolving; Smartboards were the latest “must-have” Edtech, and elite schools flaunted their solitary laptop cart. Despite my interest in these advancements, I had yet to acknowledge the “hat” I would wear most often: Digital citizenship dictato… director. Reading, writing, and arithmetic have remained tantamount in the classroom, but teaching digital citizenship – as outlined by Dr. Ribble – has emerged as the necessary modern literacy. In this role, wearing this hat, I’ve had my share of triumphs and tribulations.
Trial 1: A Digital Access Bridge Built on Financial Quicksand
Ribble emphasizes the importance of ensuring equitable student access to the digital world.
“Teachers and administrators need to be aware of their community and who may or may not have access . . .” (source)
Full disclosure: A part of me internally rebelled reading this section. It’s not that I don’t believe in equitable access (of course I do); I take exception to the heavy emphasis on educator responsibility for providing these basic human rights.
Consider these contrasting scenarios from the beginning of the pandemic:
When school closures were announced, my children were attending an affluent, French immersion school in our hometown. Every classroom (including pre-k) had 1:1 computers, freely offered to students so they could continue learning online. The offer was unnecessary. Over 95% of students already had digital access at home. The school maintained an 85% online engagement score until the end of June 2020, the highest in our division.
In contrast, when the community school I (then) worked at closed, we were left scrambling to provide students with online technology. Computers were limited and there was an unspoken (highly prejudiced) perception that if we sent those laptops home, we would never see them again. I sent them home anyway (a part of me still fears typing this – as if the laptop/internet police are somehow waiting for my admission. Send bail $ if necessary). Wi-Fi access was the next obstacle, eventually sorted by SaskTel (with its own problematic fine print). The largest hurdle was student engagement…it was not a passing grade. Of course, when many were scrambling for food, logging into Zoom understandably seemed inconsequential.
Teachers are most definitely aware of the “winners and losers” in technological access. The difficulty lies in addressing this digital divide with continuing budget cuts. As always, educators will “get creative” to combat these concerns, wearing the additional hat of financial strategists. We will identify student needs and address digital access in the classroom in our finite capacity; however, the main responsibility must fall on broader shoulders (cough, cough…your turn, government and big-tech).
Trial 2: Digital Security Apathy and Privacy For Sale
Long before the internet, our embarrassing moments were relegated to the dusty photo albums our moms would bust out when company arrived. I am forever grateful my somewhat questionable early 20s “growing pains” never saw the advent of social media. Our students will never know this level of privacy, their lives sharented away from almost the moment of their conception.
As an educator and parent, I confess my guilt…
- Using my children’s lives as social media highlight reels. Although I have utilized advanced security settings and limited my online contacts, I have still placed my children’s lives online (much of it without their consent). As my digital awareness has grown in the last few years, I have attempted to mend my ways by seeking their consent and removing identifying information. Still, their digital footprint is one I have created for them.
- Similarly, schools often use classroom and extracurricular highlight reels to showcase “all the amazing things going on inside our walls.” Student engagement, connections, and smiles are used as unpaid advertisements. Last year, so many of my female-identifying students would cover their faces when pictures were taken. Thinking it was a self-esteem concern, I asked why. They revealed an online hellscape that would make my former super insecure, 13-year-old self shudder. Their images taken, altered, and spread across the web by students from other schools. Parents may have signed away their children’s digital images, but did anyone ask our students? My first Edtech division meeting is next week and I will be discussing this concern…we’ll see what happens.
- For the sake of Edtech convenience and using the “latest” platforms, how often have I neglected to read the fine print, consequently selling my students’ digital identities? How likely is it that I’m the only guilty one? In 2022, Human Rights Watch released a troubling report that examined over 150 Edtech products recommended by 49 governments (including Canada). Below are some of the more troubling findings, but I recommend reading the report in its entirety:
- 89% of studied Edtech was able to (or were already) tracking children online, often without consent
- Almost all of the products granted access to children’s personal data to third-party companies, mostly AdTech
- 39 governments created Edtech products (during the pandemic) that jeopardized or infringed on students’ digital rights
Postman noted that these technological changes – or, in this case, violations – become the “natural order of things.” But should we, as educators (and/or parents) be content with this invasive digital mythos? In a world where clicking “yes” on terms and services without reading the fine print is just too easy, combating big tech seems insurmountable; however, this is a digital war where apathy cannot be the solution. We must teach our students to read the fine print and to respect their digital privacy. Even harder, we must practice what we preach.
Triumph: Digital Fluency in the Ever-Evolving Language of Digital Literacy
In the last five or more years, I have included media literacy as a cross-curricular subject. I don’t always get it right and my lessons don’t always connect. I’ve heard everything from “I spend 60-plus hours of unmonitored time online a week” to “I don’t really care if information online is true or not; I just share.” These are the student comments that keep me up at night..but sometimes (just sometimes) little rays of hope keep me going.
After attending Democracy Bootcamp a few years ago (and loving it), I have mainly used CIVIX to teach my students about digital literacy. One of the lessons – Feed for Thought – has students examine online information about the potential construction of a solar panel factory near a school. What students don’t realize is they are viewing two separate NEWS threads, purposely geared toward shaping their opinions.
When it came time to debate the pros and cons of the solar panel company, my (overly confident) Gr. 7’s dug in with ferocious gusto. Political parties should already take note of this group – there are future politicians, social justice warriors, and lawyers in the bunch (I have no doubt). Based on what they read, each side was adamant they were right. It was only once they began citing specific examples from the readings that they came to a startling realization – they’d been “played” by their teacher and the assignment. An amazing AH-HA moment! From that moment on, they questioned everything (for better and worse). As my former students go on in life, I hope they continue to question everything they see, read, and hear. The world needs more critical thinkers fluent in this evolving, often confusing digital landscape.
Final Thoughts: The Trials and Triumphs of Digital Citizenship
Teaching digital citizenship is rarely easy, even when nicely outlined by Dr. Ribble. As educators who are merely human (but superheroes nonetheless), we win and lose in the classroom every day. For many of us who have taught for more than a decade, the digital literacy director’s hat is one we didn’t know we’d have to wear; a role they never taught us in undergrad. Still, we will continue to fight the digital divide with limited budgets and promote digital privacy in a media-saturated world. In the constantly changing, unpredictable online world, Ribble’s nine elements set a firm course for digital citizenship. As educators, the path will be fraught with trials…but there will be triumphs as well. What we choose to focus on in our classrooms is entirely up to us.
POINTS TO PONDER
Please feel free to discuss some of the following or any other observations/personal experiences you have:
- In your experience, how has inequitable digital access affected students’ educational experiences? Who do you believe is responsible for addressing and correcting this disparity?
- Do you believe schools do an adequate job protecting student privacy? How can schools promote the “good things going on inside” while respecting students’ right to privacy?
- If you have children, how are you navigating the creation of their digital footprint?
- How often do you read the fine print when signing up for various online education programs/sites?
- Which of Dr. Ribble’s nine elements do you believe are the most important when teaching digital citizenship? Can a few be chosen or must they be collectively represented?