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Engaging Every Student

October 20, 2021

Activating Community and Social Engagement through Digital Citizenship

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Julia E. Torres

One of the most puzzling aspects of educating young people in the current climate has been figuring out how to engage learners as part of a community when many of them have lived in isolation for up to 18 months.  

We are aware of the fact that, as the world went into pandemic lockdown, social media became even more essential for many students. We are also aware that due to a decline in opportunities for in-person connection, there was a surge in social media engagement that simultaneously occurred during this time.

However, the educational community at large has remained relatively quiet about the intersections between digital citizenship, opportunities for engaging and transforming our communities remotely, and the darker side of social media use, which may include a decline in mental health and social media addiction.

Many librarians and classroom educators use the AASL standards framework for teaching digital citizenship. Though it is important to have a place to start, the students themselves should always be our first indicator of what is needed, and whether what we are doing is actually working. In reflecting on digital citizenship, I offer three important ideas to help today’s students leverage digital citizenship to rebuild community and activate social engagement:


SEL as part of Digital Citizenship

When we think about the term digital citizenship, we initially think about ways to support responsible social engagement in online spaces. This includes learning to evaluate sources (many librarians use the CRAAP test) and our own positions in a social hierarchy. Traditionally, schools have taught digital citizenship as part of a continuum of research skills. Though this is important, during the lockdown — and in these weeks and months after schools have reopened — SEL components of learning have become a special focus for many educators and administrators.


Incorporating Social Engagement
In order to counter some of the more negative aspects of our shared online existence, we must help young people learn to re-connect and communicate with one another in healthy ways. Our students should be — and in many cases are — creators as well as consumers of content. As such, educators can help young people build the critical-thinking skills needed to manage social media interactions, evaluate sources of information, and choose how they share that information — core components of good digital citizenship.

One way to help students bring these evaluation skills to life in the real world is through programs like Youth Participatory Action Research. With this innovative approach to positive youth and community development, authentic assessments give young people the opportunity to evaluate and shape the world around them. Through shared social action projects like these, we can support young people in re-establishing healthy and effective communication.


Rebuilding Community

In order to rebuild our communities — whether online or in person — we have to recognize all that we have been through in the last 18 months and the transformation and healing that has to occur. Through this process, we'll also have to be honest about all the issues that have existed with traditional education in the first place. We have a unique opportunity to both heal from and be transformed by these experiences. We just need to make sure that we understand what our community needs and work towards the outcomes we collectively desire.


Transforming Digital Citizenship

We know that technology, digital modes of interaction, and the many ways we seek out and engage with information are changing rapidly. For many of us, the climate in which we are now teaching does not resemble the one in which we started — at all.

It seems as though the only way to continue to serve students in ways that will actually transform the way they learn is to listen to them, to ask questions to determine the many ways they are organically seeking and finding answers to their questions, and to facilitate learning environments that encourage healthy self-reflection and communication with a focus on developing awareness of the importance of our global interconnectedness.

Author thumnail image

Julia E. Torres

Teacher Librarian

Denver, Colorado

Julia is teacher librarian for five schools in Denver, Colorado. Julia is an expert in secondary writing and reading instruction, including accelerated reading and writing instruction for multilingual students and those learning in urban environments. Julia facilitates workshops and professional conversations around the country pertaining to best practices in reading and writing instruction, culturally sustaining pedagogies in language arts, as well as digital literacy and librarianship.

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