Citizenship for Personalized Learning

By Tim Clark on Thu, 5/19/2016
Picture of member, Tim Clark

Tim Clark
Vice President of Learning Innovation, SAFARI Montage

This post, written in collaboration with Diana Ryan, is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. It is necessary to construct the building block of Citizenship within a classroom to better facilitate personalized learning. Although a personalized learning environment focuses on the needs and interests of individual students, how those students operate collectively as an entity of learners can influence and even determine what they are personally able to accomplish. Teachers can purposefully help students understand the rights and responsibilities of a digital citizen.

In order to develop life long learners, teachers must provide opportunities for students to build traits of prosperous, generous, and responsible citizens. Each child has various traits that influence the development of their social personas, whether digitally or physically. Teaching and modeling digital age skills through technology can nurture the traits of contributing citizens. Identifying each student’s intrinsic motivation is beneficial for ensuring individual participation. Detailed below are some additional qualities of citizenship that teachers can look for in their personalized learning environments.

Qualities of Citizenship

Netiquette – Building a positive digital footprint (some refer to it as a digital tattoo) is essential for today’s students. Many students have taught themselves how to utilize technology and have made unfortunate mistakes. They want to emulate their parents, teen brothers and sisters, and even popular celebrities they see using technology all the time. Many adults have inadvertently experienced the problems that can arise when they post something inappropriate on social media, or accidentally copy someone on an email. Following the “live and learn” motto with online communication can lead to difficult repercussions for our students. It is of utmost importance that we coach students in appropriate netiquette. Netiquette is the behavior that one uses while on the Internet. A good rule of thumb is to teach students that whatever they say online should be appropriate for virtually anyone to see because it’s so easy for someone to forward a text, email, and/or post. “If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online.” Another relevant aspect of netiquette to teach students is the interpretation of a message as they consider what to post. It’s very difficult to understand one’s tone through digital means. Teach students to take a moment and reread and reflect before posting a message online. Regular practice and feedback are necessary for developing good netiquette.

Internet Safety – My son’s best friend lives in another country, and he rarely gets to see him face-to-face. However, he communicates with him each week through online gaming. Like many teens, one of their favorite games is FIFA. As they wear their headsets, they discuss the soccer game they are currently playing, but I’ve also overheard them discussing many other topics and issues – even where they are planning on attending college one day. This is not uncommon. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 78% of teen online gamers say that when they play games online it makes them feel more connected to friends they already know. The physical world has blended into their online experiences for our students in a new contextual manner. Just as they would practice safety as they venture into a new city, they have to learn how to be safe on the Internet. Furthermore, in order to build a positive foundation for personalized learning, students must learn how to be safe online. They need to recognize that just because they read something online, it may not be true. It’s essential that they understand that a flashing message that promises a free trip or a cash giveaway will only lead to additional spam, a breach of privacy, or put themselves at risk. They also have to be wary of strangers online. Teachers have to communicate these potential dangers to students and explain how to report any situation that makes them feel unsafe. Understanding how to be safe online empowers students as they engage in personalized learning.

Participation – Listening to every voice can be difficult if teachers consistently rely on whole-group direct instruction as their primary teaching method. Consider what happens in typical classroom full of students when a teacher poses a question to the class. As students raise their hands to answer the question, generally, the teacher selects one student to answer and moves on to the next question. How can the teacher determine how many students are truly engaged at that moment? The answer is the one student who answered the question. Personalized learning requires the participation of every student. One strategy for increasing participation is to use a student response system. If the teacher asked questions to all students using a student response system and mobile devices, then all students could answer and ensure better participation. Now, the teacher can determine immediately who understands the concept being taught and who needs corrective feedback. The teacher could also go back and reteach the concept immediately if the majority of the class is not understanding it. There are additional strategies for improving participation in a personalized environment. Students could possibly answer questions at their own pace or even generate their own questions. As long as the students are participating at their own pace, we know that they are receiving instruction meeting their needs. Technology tools can provide us with greater opportunities to increase participation. To do this, teachers need to be comfortable with sharing the learning experience with the students in their classes.

Equity – There are many ways that equity can be realized within the personalized learning environment, and I have previously blogged about the issue of equity in learning opportunities. Equitable access for all students doesn’t necessarily mean each student having a device; rather, it entails the access to engaging, digital content and activities either within the classroom or as part of a course. Picture two different science classes in the same middle school. In one classroom, the teacher is encouraging students to bring in their own devices. Even if only 50% of students have devices, there is still an opportunity to have collaborative groups that can work together to create movies, interactive presentations, animations, and more based on a particular learning standard. They can be creative together and utilize each other’s strengths. For example, one of the students might be more organized and can write the script, while the other does the filming. Now, consider the other classroom where the teacher has assigned all students to read independently a chapter from the textbook (either online or on paper) and answer the questions from the end of the chapter for homework. In this classroom, their is no personalization of the learning experience, and the resulting two classrooms are inequitable in the learning opportunities available to students. Even in the BYOT classroom described above, there is greater opportunity to utilize the school’s technology tools and resources as students are collaboratively discovering new ways to show what they know.

Responsibility – What does it mean to be a good digital citizen? There are certain responsibilities that each student must develop in order to become a productive, engaged citizen. Time management, organization, and note taking are all important skills that lead to a responsible adult. These three traits can be developed with the assistance of technology. Many apps have led the way for building responsible behavior by removing obstacles that have traditionally impeded success for learners. In fact, Apple has essentially given every iOS user a personal assistant with Siri. Simply by holding down the home button, you can ask her to set reminders, make appointments, or even call someone. An app called My Video Schedule provides images throughout the day to remind users to do particular activities that could be useful within the classroom. Mindfulness is another skill that can help students become more responsible within the personalized learning environment. When students are consciously aware of their strengths and challenges, they are better able to utilize their strengths to overcome many of their challenges and to experience personal success.

There are many ways that teachers can help students develop the above traits in their classrooms. By conferencing regularly with students and helping them set short term goals, teachers can help students realize success. The amount of necessary conferencing may differ based on the personal needs of each student. If necessary, a teacher could conference with students at the beginning of each day; check midday to see how their progress has been; and have a final check at the end of the day. Journaling at the end of the week can also help students determine their effectiveness on accomplishing goals. This practice is a good way to build self-reflection skills and leads to better citizenship.