Texting on phoneMy students and I had an “a-ha” moment the other day, in terms of digital citizenship and how we really need to think before we post images to the Internet. Or maybe even before we take the picture.

We are working hard to discourage our students from taking “candids” of each other at school, and more important, from posting those pictures on their favorite social network. I know that may sound strange to many readers, but I teach some very transient, very high-risk kids, and we cannot guarantee the safety of some of our students if other kids are taking their pictures (and then posting them on Facebook to share with friends).

It’s a difficult situation. Everybody with a hand-held device has the ability to take a picture (and many can take video). My students know that I take pictures in class, to document what we’re doing, and that I encourage them to take photographs to help with their learning (grab a picture of the verb chart we’re working on, if it’s easier for you to use that medium — or take a photo of a favorite piece of student art, so you can describe it in French).

What we’re trying to cut down is the great shot of your “bestie” doing cartwheels on the yard that might also show the faces of three kids in the background who aren’t supposed to have their photos taken. A quick share of that picture puts those kids’ safety at risk.

Teachable moments

Other than expecting those students to self-identify to their peers all the time (and some of the younger ones don’t even know that they’re not supposed to have their picture taken), one of the best ways to get the issue out in the open is to have a serious discussion with my Grade 6, 7 and 8 students, hopefully in a setting where we can all talk about it in a non-scary, non-judgmental way.

So, there we were, the other day, in the middle of one of these discussions, when a lot of noise erupts outside our room. There is a very unhappy child in the hall, apparently being physically moved by an adult. I knew it was one of our “child and youth” workers (CYW) on a “walkabout” with one of our challenged kindergarten students, but to someone who didn’t know the context, it could be a pretty disturbing snapshot or video image. This student is non-verbal, and one of the ways he communicates is by screaming. The screaming is often a way to communicate happiness, but it still sounds like screaming.

The CYW and I had talked about introducing our older classes to this student, so that they would know what was happening if they saw or heard him in their hallway. I invited them in. The kids in my 6/7 class were charmed by this imp, but quickly understood that he was very physical with his support worker, climbing all over her and clinging to her leg like a security blanket as they walked. They were fascinated by the obvious fact that he was happy, even though he was making a great deal of noise.

After their quick visit, I asked my students how the interaction between student and worker tied into our discussion about the consequences of posting something on the Internet without thinking it through.

There was one of those beautiful “whoosh” moments. If you’re a teacher you know the whoosh I mean. It’s like all the air gets sucked out of the room, and you can almost hear the pings as the light bulbs come on.

My students totally understood that should someone take a video of our kindergarten student with his worker — without understanding what they were actually seeing — and then post it on the Internet, it could have HUGE ramifications.

We talked about the fact that sometimes students will perceive a situation like that as funny and have the urge to share it with their friends. “Look at the crazy stuff that happens at MY school!” And then it goes viral and….

Getting real with digital citizenship

When my students left class that day, they were different kids than when they walked in my door. They really were. They had taken a minute to step into the shoes of a kindergarten student who communicates differently than they do — a vulnerable child who didn’t deserve to be the object of ridicule — and as a result they got a “real-world” context lesson in digital citizenship.

All of us who advocate for the learning potential of mobile technologies continue to navigate the hurdles of opening up BYOD devices in the  unique context of school. But in my school we’re doing it together and that makes the hurdles easier to overcome.

What are you doing with your students to help “make it real,” as you teach them about digital citizenship?

About the author
Lisa Noble teaches French and music to Grade 4-8 students in Peterborough, Ontario. She strives to be a life-long learner along with her students and colleagues, and is passionate about issues of digital citizenship and media literacy. She tweets as @nobleknits2.