With Digital Learning Day fast approaching, Marcia Powell outlines a simple way for students to work with tech tools and take a closer look at their own digital habits.
This article originally appeared in Education Week Teacher as part of a publishing partnership with the Center for Teaching Quality. Reprinted with permission from the author.
Digital Learning Day is this week, officially on Friday, March 13. Or, as Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake would tell you: Hashtag it (#DLDay).
As a teacher, your response might be somewhere between “I’m so excited to see the projects coming out. I have a Digital Learning Day celebration ready to go!” and “Oh, who am I kidding? I know digital learning is important, but do I really need to take on one more thing? I have feedback to give, tests to grade, and projects to help students organize.”
If the second reaction is yours, stop, take a deep breath, and relax. While #DLDay is officially happening this week, that doesn’t mean that your students can’t take part in the movement next week or next month. Digital Learning Day—an initiative organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education with the help of corporate sponsors—is about empowering students and teachers and increasing college and career readiness. It’s certainly too big to be confined to one day or one activity.
That said, you can still join the fun this week. Below is a collaborative activity that addresses issues of trust, anxiety, and digital citizenship using a Google Form survey. Students in your class, district, and beyond can answer the seven questions and then mine the data to analyze trends in how people use their digital devices.
Recently, three middle school teachers tried this project to great success. Here’s how they did it.
Late one Friday evening, one teacher had the idea to create a survey related to #DLDay for students. She shared the idea with a couple of colleagues and it quickly caught on. In just a few days, thanks to sharing the survey link via email and social media and with students directly, the group had more than 1,000 data points regarding digital habits.
But the survey wasn’t the focus—it was the starting point. The dataset of responses was a rich resource that students could mine for trends, particularly around the themes of trust, digital citizenship, and anxiety. For example, 93 percent of the people surveyed felt that they were good digital citizens. You could pose a question to students: How do we help people who aren’t confident as they enter a digital future? This topic spills over to classes in social studies, computer science, language arts, and health. Another question to ask could be: What are the characteristics of a “good” digital citizen? This question opens the door to research projects, polls, data collection, and graphic design.
Students and teachers should feel free to adapt the survey, modify it for their own interests, or create a new one altogether. Make this tool yours!
Another activity is to use the summary analytics report available with a Google Form. It’s a simple but hidden gem; simply click Form → Show Summary of Responses. This tool also generates pie charts on the fly, which is a great starting point for discussion—either within the classroom or via videoconference with students in another class or building. If you’d like to go deeper, the Data → Pivot Table report using the COUNTA feature allows students who want to go beyond histograms to create a very basic and unadorned pivot table report (below).
Digital Learning Themes
In this survey, teachers chose to explore the themes of trust, digital citizenship, and anxiety—three themes that were of interest to them. But there’s no limit to the topics that students and teachers could explore together around digital devices and learning, including devices in school, digital access outside of school, student preferences with job or work habits, teamwork, or students’ current app of choice.
Here are a few takeaways that teachers had with this project:
Trust: Trust is a big part of digital citizenship. Teachers and parents need to trust that their learners are working on appropriate materials, but there is a privacy worry around digital devices as well. How do teachers balance those concerns in a classroom? How do those concerns extend to employment or home use?
We’ve all heard anecdotes of improper use of photos, pictures, or stories—but how can we make the consequences of those actions real to students? One potential discussion point or project for students could be to analyze which people respondents reported trusting more with their devices and why those differences exist. Is it problematic if students trust their peers more than their parents?
Digital Citizenship: Sometimes this issue gets fuzzy for students and teachers. What does it mean to be a “good” digital citizen? Is it unethical for a 12-year old student to access a website with a minimum age requirement of 13? What about sharing worksheet answers through social media? Does the sharing boundary shift from school to home? What types of postings are never acceptable, and when should a user reach out to others to help with an issue of cyberbullying? These are not just hypothetical questions for students and teachers but a rich opportunity to involve drama skits or the visual arts in the classroom, extending the issue to multiple classrooms.
Anxiety: This year, digital addiction has made the news. If you and your students feel a need to tackle information overload, consider taking on the Bored and Brilliantchallenge. If you use an iPhone, the Moment app can track your digital time. It’s worth nothing that one in four respondents reported separation anxiety with devices, which certainly suggests a worthwhile conversation.
Wouldn’t it also be great to debate the following question with kids: Does being bored trigger creativity? Some research suggests that boredom is the brain’s reset button. Want to test it? Have one group of students play an online app game and have another copy multiplication tables for 15 minutes. Then give them a creative task, like a lateral thinking problem or a Torrance Test, to see which group performs better.
Now it’s your turn. How can students use technology to find their voice, collaborate with one another, and create new understandings? The real vision of Digital Learning Day is not about teachers; it’s about students using technology as a tool to think critically and solve the problems of today and tomorrow.