Cyber Civics: It's So Relevant!


In a recent Cyber Civics lesson, Level 1: Your Digital Reputation, my 6th grade students were tasked with combing through the ‘social media profiles’ of a couple fictitious students to see who was more deserving of a college scholarship they were going to pretend to award.


My class was digging into the social media posts of the candidates, looking at their school websites, local news stories, their Tweets, blog posts, work reviews, etc... and generally acting like detectives to see what they could find out about the character, behavior and online presence of these students. They needed to answer the question:


“Who is more impressive, honest, and upstanding?”


This exercise is fascinating for my students when we debrief because they are asked to evaluate a person’s character with a very limited set of data points - how reflective of real life is that? It’s not always right or even fair to evaluate people like this, but it is the reality. More on this important lesson later.


During this particular Zoom Cyber Civics class a prospective student was visiting. Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but occasionally there are issues with students texting or using phones during class, especially when we are on Zoom. On this particular day, the visiting student - clearly new to the rules - was asked to put away his cell phone and stay with the lesson. So naturally, he started using his iMessage on his computer to text other kids in the class. Within minutes of my asking him to please stow the phone for the duration of class, I received an SOS text message from a parent in the class who shared this screenshot of a message sent by the visiting student to their child, a current student in the class:




The text was intended for a student, but (smartly!) the student's mom had some parental controls on her child’s device, and more importantly, had an open line of communication about acceptable online behavior and expectations with her child, so that the student felt comfortable reporting the text.


The lesson proceeded, and the students were quick to discover, via our breakout room conversations, that both candidates had many ‘flaws’ in their digital reputations. Most groups couldn’t even justify giving either candidate the scholarship. I shared with them the story of a group of recently accepted Harvard students who had their acceptance rescinded because of their posting of offensive and obscene memes. Returning to the fictitious students in our lesson: Did they think the candidates ever thought that posting a picture of themselves TP-ing a person’s house would reflect poorly on them when they were being considered for a scholarship? Or that saying rude things about a specific gender on their Twitter account would cast a pall on their overall digital reputation? Ouch!


Did they think the candidates ever thought that posting a picture of themselves TP-ing a person’s house would reflect poorly on them when they were being considered for a scholarship? Or that saying rude things about a specific gender on their Twitter account would cast a pall on their overall digital reputation? Ouch!

Back in the real world, the prospective student who had really hoped to join the class, now had his character called into question by a ‘small’, split second decision in the online space. The school was asked to evaluate his character with a very limited set of data points, including this one.


We call this a pedagogical story.

The amazing thing about teaching Digital Citizenship to adolescents, is that they encounter real-world, relevant examples of what we talk about daily, just like they did during our class on Digital Reputations. In the Waldorf School, we call this a pedagogical story - the story that comes from real life and personal experience is so much more rich and powerful than anything another person can try to relay. Young people sort of ‘get’ what it means to have your Harvard acceptance rescinded, but they absolutely get what it means when a visitor doesn’t join their class.


Soni Albright is the Admissions Director and Cyber Civics Teacher at City of Lakes Waldorf School in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her husband, four striving digital citizens, 2 cats, and a Betta fish. We are thrilled that she will be joining the Cyber Civics team to work with home school families.


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