Flops, Defeats, and Omissions – A Brief History of Mishandling Ribble’s 9 Elements

Failure provides opportunities for growth and reflection (in my case, many, many opportunities)

As an educator do you ever get the feeling that your not as effectual, prepared, or responsible as your colleagues?  When you engage in professional or academic conversations do you sometimes reflect on your past actions and wince?

I certainly do.

Depressed Havanese Dog by Nutcracker 100CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

This week’s discourse around digital literacy provided ample time for me to relive a greatest hits playlist of botched attempts at both instructing and practicing Mike Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship.  How important is digital literacy?  According to the Government of Saskatchewan teaching digital literacy is not only essential for preparing our students to live in technology rich world, but it must be done so explicitly and purposefully within schools.  The importance of the latter point is foremost in my mind because up to this point I have made some embarrassing blunders that I intend to share with you.  Why do this?  We all have lapses and make mistakes.  I hope by examining the missteps that I have made (and bore witness to in my teaching career) we can all gain a better understanding of how Ribble’s work impacts the social and learning environment of a school.

Here we go.

The Great Phishing Expedition or “How I clicked a link and almost doomed a school system”

Fishing for Roachby Charles JacqueCC0 1.0 DEED

An important part of teaching is modelling the behaviour one expects from their students.  If you wish to instill values like respect, generosity, fairness, and good citizenship in your pupils you need to not only demonstrate them yourself, but they need to be reflected in the daily practices and structures of your classroom.  It does little good to preach one thing and practice another.

Was this top of mind when I logged into my school laptop a couple of years ago and opened my email client?  Not really (but to be fair at the start of the school day I usually find myself torn between the desire to consume all the caffeine in existence and hide somewhere in a janitor’s closet until the grade nines settle down).  While scanning through newsletters, homework requests, and desperate pleas to extend assignment deadlines I noticed a message from Canada Post.  Having recently ordered a package I clicked on the link (please dear reader resist the urge to strangle me through the screen), was redirected to an unfamiliar website, and thought noting of it.  Later during a math lesson my device started behaving abnormally, and being the consummate professional I am, I quickly cried out to our IT department for help.  As it turns out I had downloaded a particularly potent form of malware that required a very exhausted technician to come pick up my system, work some form of technological sorcery, and return it to me with a series of stern warnings.

So no harm, no foul.  Fast forward several months later.  A colleague made a similar mistake which allowed a group of hackers to encrypt and compromise our entire school division’s internal network.  It paralyzed classroom instruction and communication.  I found myself relying on an ancient (but admittedly sturdy) overhead projector in a scene reminiscent of instructing from the 1980s.  The point is that I got lucky.  I could have easily caused the breach that brought the whole thing tumbling down.

Understanding digital security is a key component of Ribble’s nine elements.  As Let’s Talk Science pointed out security isn’t purely technical – it is largely dependent on the human element.  Essentially I am the weakest link in the security chain.  Bad actors are constantly trying to access our personal data and financial information.  By not acting in a security conscience way I demonstrated to my students a lack of personal commitment to this value.

However, this did provide an opportunity for discussion across all of my classes.  While we sat staring into golden light of the noisy overhead projector I recounted to my students how neglecting basic security practices got us into this mess.  It was a harsh lesson to learn and it completely changed my school division’s culture around network security.  Some of our new measures border on Draconian, but these may not have been necessary had I spent more time addressing security with my students and internalizing the lessons myself.

The quest to photocopy literally anything and everything

Let me posit a scenario for you: a conscientious teacher who is well versed in Canadian copyright law both adheres to the rules and communicates them effectively to their students (respecting the rights of creators).  Consider an alternate scenario: a near burned out teacher fueled by adrenaline and six cups of coffee runs to prep room and churns out lessons in a fashion that is reminiscent of a Benny Hill chase sequence.

Which of these scenarios in your opinion is more likely?

According to Ribble understanding the law and how it applies to our use of technology  is part of digital citizenship.  This extends to properly crediting creators, understanding and avoiding plagiarism, and observing the rules surrounding copyright.  I must confess until I started preparing for this blog post I was a little rusty on my copyright law.  As I looked through the booklet entitled Copyright Matters (a forlorn and unloved document that resides in almost every photocopier room) I was relieved to find out that the overwhelming majority of what I have observed in my teaching career has been above board.  However, I am not one to sit here and tell you that I have never heard of an individual or individuals breaking these rules to little consequence.

Therein lies the problem, how often have you heard the term “teaching is stealing”?  What does our cavalier attitude towards intellectual property say to our colleagues and students?  Personally, intellectual property rights are far from my mind in my day to day activities as an educator.  This is attitude is then downloaded to my students as they prepare reports and presentations for class.  I am not arguing that these conversations are the most pressing concern in schools, but I would argue that these are rarely, if ever, discussed with prominence.  How does this affect the way society values writers, artists, and designers?  I would argue that with the advent of artificial intelligence skimming libraries of public available works that the value of intellectual property will further diminish.  It is my responsibility to communicate these rules and their importance to my students, a role which until recently I haven’t given enough consideration.

I don’t avoid learning new technologies, but it sure looks like it in practice

In Liana Loewus’ article she quotes the work of Hiller Spires, a university professor at North Carolina State University, stating that digital literacy contains 3 key components: finding and consuming digital content, creating digital content, and communicating and sharing it.  Digital literacy is also cited by Ribble as one of the nine elements of digital citizenship.  I can say with confidence that I am a wizard when it comes to finding content and communicating it, but I struggle when it comes to production end of things.  More often than not I stick to programs that I already know (after 2 years in a master’s degree program I have finally started to master PowerPoint rather than spit out boring slide shows based on templates – click here for an example), but this has been limiting.  Deep, deep down in my bones I know that I’ve been avoiding video editing software, photo manipulation suites, and in class tools like Canva and Presi.  As Loewus points out this is limiting for two reasons, first creating content encourages and fosters collaboration, and secondly it is a tremendous form of social power.  Essentially her argument is that digital content creation gives voice to people who don’t usually have one which is powerful tool for social change.  By sticking to what I know I am both limiting my own potential and that of my students.  Given the rapid advances occurring around us in the tech space it is my attitude that needs changing more than anything.  No one can be competent in every piece of technology, but the will to learn and change with its flow is key.

Questions to Ponder

Now that I’ve shared of a few of my own difficulties with Ribble’s nine elements, which do you have the toughest time with?  Do you have any similar stories?  On the other side of things is there a particular activity or lesson that your are proud of that reflects Ribble’s work?

Have a great day.

5 thoughts on “Flops, Defeats, and Omissions – A Brief History of Mishandling Ribble’s 9 Elements

  1. When you talked about photocopying, I immediately flashed back to many of my own experiences in schools where teachers thought they could take whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to use with classes, but I hadn’t considered actually discussing the intellectual property and why it is important to give that credit when you use other people’s work, outside of the academic reasons for doing so.
    For me, the biggest victory in terms of citizenship has been in terms of the content creation software students can use, and how much of it they can use for free. But, I cannot know how all of them work, so some of the time I have had to let my students play around with things on their own and see what happens, and they have been able to produce some fantastic stuff! I have also liked how with the proliferation of free editing software, students can more easily replicate the types of media they consume, whether that be podcasts or videos. It has been really nice for me to give them those kinds of options, and instead of writing a 1500 word essay about Hamlet that they could a 15 minute podcast about the play instead. That was also nice because it took some pressure off of students who may be nervous about speaking in front of someone that they can still do a presentation and they don’t even have to be in the room when I listen to it.

  2. I’m glad you were willing to share your personal ‘flops’ with the 9 elements because they were pretty funny (only because you have since recovered from them haha). I’m sure you have some great success stories too though! For myself, I was in the same boat as you for consuming content and not being great at creating it….until when I took my first ed tech course 9 months ago. Being given the opportunity to play around with different apps and content creation was the space I needed to feel more confident. The one catch with learning this skill is the time required for it. “Playing around” and creating content takes A LOT of time in the beginning and the amount of hours I put into that class (knowing I was going to take more ed tech courses and that my newly acquired skills would be beneficial to my teaching) was ASTRONOMICAL, seriously. Everything was new. It took me a week to set up and figure out my blog (so I have GREAT compassion for people taking their first ed tech course and have to navigate that process). For another example, I learned how to use Canva for my first-ever summary of learning and an 8 minute video took me at least 40 hours to complete…woof.

    Also, I am totally with Jordan in allowing students to use their skills to their advantage to express their understanding of content. I think that is where ed should be going in the future rather than keeping students in a box of content creation, which will allow for more opportunity to incorporate the 9 elements into multiple disciplines. I do something similar for the exact text Jordan mentions because, like he said, I don’t want pressure to get in the way of them expressing their understanding.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great post Matt. I appreciate your honesty and humour. It still stings a little thinking of all those emails I had in my inbox that I was using as a file storage rather than effectively organize and save them on my desktop in a folder because I no longer have access to them 🙁
    I teach soem grade 7/8 Health this year and i figured the unit on morals would be a great start for the year. I created a Google classroom and had engaging lessons with many discussions about morals and peer pressure. I quickly realized the message was lost on some as they didn’t realize I could see all their messages to each other on the stream! We had to have some frank discussions about how we treat each other online.

  4. Hi Matt,
    I see we have shared many of the same “hiccups” implementing Ribble’s nine elements. As I know you’ve read my blog this week, I won’t elaborate on my shortfalls again. After reading Loewus’ article and your reflections, I had to admit there are certain technologies I am avoiding. For one, the 3D printer I repeatedly lament in my classroom (because it always breaks). I consistently rely on our division tech consultant to adjust it, but the thing is…I know I am more than capable of leveling and fixing it if only I’d apply myself to the task. At this time, I am uncertain where my resistance stems from (apathy…laziness…fear?). Your post has left me to think about this further…for better or worse! HA! Thanks.

  5. Thanks for sharing these personal connections, Matt! I think that your post illustrates the importance of reflecting on our mistakes and close calls within the world of digital citizenship. It also demonstrates how much of this is a continual and gradual learning process for all of us, and we are bound to fail at certain points along the way. I also wonder about your colleague who made one uncertain click and unintentionally assisted bad actors in their work. This mistake is a great example of a failure that we can learn from, and are learning from actively. Since the hack/breach you describe, my division has made an even more determined approach to educating staff on digital citizenship. It is unfortunate it often takes extreme circumstances to kickstart responsible action.

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