BOULDER - No one can deny that technology has revolutionized education. Now that schools have powerful, dynamic tools that can provide instant access to libraries of information, the ability to create professional-quality movies, and even the opportunity to speak to experts on the other side of the globe, the learning opportunities are truly endless.
However, as Winston Churchill once said, “Where there is great power there is great responsibility.”
The Boulder Valley School District understands the benefits and challenges technology presents. BVSD takes its responsibility to student safety extremely seriously. The district’s Educational Technology department has been working with teachers, students and families to implement strategies so that our children have the appropriate level of access, training and support.
“We want our students to grow in this digitally connected world and be able to access tools that provide new opportunities to connect, collaborate and build their skills. At the same time we must have discussions about potential conflicts that may arise from that access,” said BVSD Director of Educational Technology Kelly Sain.
Students are growing up in a digital world
Students in our schools today have grown up in a world, where technology is omnipresent and as a result they are not only completely comfortable using it, but in many cases they prefer it for common tasks like reading, taking notes or researching a topic.
“They say that learning for them is anytime, anywhere,” Sain said. “They tell us, ‘[with these tools] I can access when I need to and I can go deeper with a topic of interest. As I research, I may dive into a topic and through Internet connectivity, I achieve deeper learning that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish through a text book or another avenue.’”
Given this presence of technology, educators are looking for the right balance of access and security.
“I want to make sure that we providing innovative environments for our students,” Sain said. “If we don’t use the tools of our time, our students will not be successful. We have to find ways to make it engaging and relevant to them, while also striking that balance with safety and security.”
Sain added, “Technology is no longer, ‘I’m going to the computer lab because it is technology time.’ It is a valued tool that kids need to use when it is appropriate We see technology as a tool in a student's’ tool box. If they need it, we want to make sure they have access to it, so they can pull it out and use it as they need. Then, when they don’t, they put it away.”
Digital Citizenship is taught from kindergarten to graduation in BVSD
In every grade, BVSD teaches students about Digital Citizenship, which is defined by Common Sense Media as the ability “to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world.”
BVSD wants all students to be able to use technology safely and appropriately, understand how it affects themselves and others, and participate with confidence in a thoughtful manner. All of the curriculum and strategies are guided by the standards set by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
“Digital Citizenship has been in our curriculum and it is part of our Colorado Academic Standards,” Sain said. “One new opportunity this year has been a newly created scope and sequence for digital citizenship curriculum. We have collaborated with teachers and teacher librarians on this this curriculum.”
“So, when we talk about online safety and security for our students, what does that look like for someone that is a first grader or someone that is a tenth grader?” asked BVSD Educational Technology Specialist Ming Scheid.
From the very beginning, students are taught how to use technological tools safely under close adult supervision, including how to keep their information private and secure online and reporting inappropriate content or suspicious situations.
Then, teachers work to sprinkle in lessons based on the situations students might face. For instance, students will hear about copyright law when they are creating content.
“We know that Digital Citizenship is not a ‘one and done’ process,” Sain said. “When a situation arises, it is a perfect time to talk about how to handle it and what should you as a student do.”
As students get older, they have the opportunity to assume more of the responsibility. It is a graduated system, much like learning to drive. Young drivers begin with a learners permit and a parent in the car, then for six months they can drive with no one else in the car. Eventually they graduate to driving without restrictions.
The goal with Digital Citizenship to to ensure the students are able to apply all the lessons they’ve learned to life outside of school.
“Just like normal teaching practices, we provide the scaffolding that our students need to be successful,” explained Scheid. “I think back to my teaching days when I talk about the gradual release of responsibility. At first, they are extremely protected. I am giving my kids all these boundaries. I am guiding them along. I’m helping them do it. The next time I do it, it is a little bit less and a little bit less.”
“Not only are we thinking about students keeping their information safe and private, but we are asking all of the people in BVSD who work with student data to go through training,” Sain added.
Before the end of this calendar year, every BVSD employee who has access to student data must take the class on information security.
Partnership with Parents
Digital citizenship requires an ongoing, whole-community approach so that all children thrive and are prepared for successful, civically, and digitally engaged lives.
“This is a partnership. There are many players. There is self responsibility [by the student]. There are teachers and leadership. Our parents have to be part of the conversation, as well,” said Sain. “We have created some opportunities through our parent engagement program to be able to have digital citizenship conversations with our community.”
Many of the parent engagement opportunities were initially built in to BVSD’s 1:Web program, but this year the EdTech team has launched P.E.P. Talks, events that aim at providing BVSD community, schools, and families with opportunities to learn, discuss, and share how to support children in the digital world.
“They are opportunities for parents to get together with other parents and talk about technology issues that are pervasive in our communities,” Scheid said. “Last month the conversation was about how to deal with digital distractions. This month is cyberbullying. Next month we will talk about having family media agreements and screen time and how to have kids self monitor.”
“We are trying to create the environment that it is okay to learn along with your child. It is okay to say, ‘I don’t have all the answers - but at least I know where to go to to get support,’” Scheid added.
Last weekend BVSD co-hosted a Digital Citizenship Symposium with Common Sense Media and Ed Sense, so that parents and educators could hear directly from experts on these important topics.
“We were able to work with Common Sense Media, a well-known non-profit agency throughout the world that creates lessons, conversations and provides resources for protecting your 'digital footprint' or your 'digital tattoo,'” Sain said.
BVSD is piloting additional tools
There is no one tool or strategy that can guarantee our students safety online and otherwise, so BVSD believes in a layered approach to security. When it comes to technology, in addition to old fashioned teacher supervision, we also employ a filtering system that works to block websites and content that has been identified as inappropriate for a K-12 audience. The district is also piloting software that will allow educators to monitor what students are doing while they are using their devices.
“There is no magic solution,” Scheid said. “This is one way that allows teachers to monitor things in a different way in the classroom.”
Four schools are participating in the pilot, which is reviewing two possible software solutions.
By providing the appropriate tools, supervision, education and support, BVSD believes that together, we as community, can ensure that students have safe access to the opportunities provided by technology.