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How I plan to ‘highjack’ Ethics class

July 17, 2013


Ah, summer! Time to unwind, relax, spend much needed time with my family… And get really excited about September!

Those of you who have read a few of my past articles know that my High School will be implementing a school-wide BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy in a few weeks. I’ve pretty much always strived to make whatever subject I was asked to teach relevant to my students, but the new direction we will be taking provides me with a golden opportunity to re-examine most of what I’ve been doing (for the past 14 years!). And I happen to be at exactly the point in my life where I consider this exhilarating!

To make it even sweeter, I’ve been asked to tag on an ‘Ethics’ component to my grade 10 History class. Principals have tried to get me to teach ‘Ethics’ to complete my workload for years now, but I’ve always found ways to get out of it, even if it meant an event bigger workload. But our new BYOD policy gives me the opportunity, and legitimacy, to ‘highjack’ this course and turn it into what will basically be a Digital Citizenship course based on facts and critical thinking.

I know that most of us consider this ‘Digital Natives’ generation as a bunch of kids that know almost everything about technology and social media. And it probably is true that most teens feel more comfortable singing up for a Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest account that most teachers I know. But, besides chatting up their friends or posting pictures, most of them don’t use these tools to their full potential. Even worse, many teens aren’t truly aware of the destructive potential of the social media sites they use. Worst of all, the haven’t given a thought to how they can and should control their digital identity as an investment in their future.

I want to make my students ‘digitally’ aware, but I would also like to provide opportunities for them to build a positive digital identity.

I’ve been hearing about digital portfolios for a couple of years. Although I like the general idea, I tend to favor using tools that are likely to exist and still be useful once they have graduated. So, although teacher or school controlled digital portfolio platforms address online security concerns, they aren’t my first choice.

I find that blogging can be a very educational experience; for the writer as well as for the reader. I’m planning on asking my students to create a blog, either with WordPress or Blogger (owned by Google). This in itself leads to questions such as: “Why do people write blogs?”, “What can I get out of reading someone else’s blog?”, “What makes a great blog article?” or “What should I not write in a blog post?”.

These questions can then lead into a discussion about our digital identity and how it has a very real impact on our real identity and then to lessons, emphasised by real stories that have made the news, about what we should and shouldn’t ever post on the web, for our own sake. Hopefully, the answers to all these questions will be as diverse as the students in the classroom. Although we will probably agree on the more extreme scenarios, we each have our own background and moral compass. They might actually make great blog post subjects!

The guiding premise might be that ‘Nothing is ever private on the web’.

Once students are aware that every article they post will not only be read by their teacher but also by potentially thousands of people around the world, they start taking their writing and expression of their opinions much more seriously than most of them would if they only handed it in as traditional homework. Recent surveys and studies confirm this.

So blogging will probably be a common thread throughout the next school year. Once the basics have been figured out and learned, I then want to make blogging an essential part of our History class as a way to reflect, think critically, take an educated stand, make connections between past and future choices… all the while building a positive digital identity as responsible digital citizens.

Now I need to see if I can get the kids as excited as I am!

I’m still working on a few ways to incorporate social media in a responsible way as an online infinite learning resource. But that will be the subject of another article. Thanks for reading. Feel free to share if you think these ideas might help someone in a similar situation!


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