The following article originally appeared on Cyber Civics, a program Diana Graber created and teaches that is also being distributed to schools throughout the US and internationally. Reading this makes me think that today’s young people are going to be asking some tough questions in the near future, about why we handed them these powerful technologies with no instruction. —EM
“Assessment is an integral part of instruction,
as it determines whether or not the goals of education are being met.”
-Why Is Assessment Important? Edutopia
By Diana Graber, Cyberwise
Student assessments are important. We all know that. However, I have resisted administering them to my own students in Cyber Civics—the digital citizenship and literacy program—because:
- Every school hour I get to spend with them engaging in lessons and discussion about their digital world is precious.
- I know, through observation and anecdotal evidence, that these lessons are helping students become kinder and more competent technology users.
- Negative digital behavior at our pilot school no longer demand administrative time or attention. Isn’t this proof enough that these lessons are working?
But data and student feedback is important, so this past school year I took the time to conduct pre- and post-assessments of all three of my Cyber Civics classes—6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at my school who participate in weekly lessons in digital citizenship, information literacy, and media literacy. Here is what I learned:
In 6th grade students receive weekly, hour-long lessons in “digital citizenship” (the norms of responsible and respectable behavior regarding technology use). It was no surprise that, at the beginning of the school year, students didn’t know much. In fact, the overall class score was only 11% (questions answered correctly). By the end of the year the class average was 93.5%.
The assessment included 12 questions, such as:
“What is a “digital citizen”? (No one got this right).
“What is a “digital footprint”?
Hardly anyone got this second question quite right either, but not for lack of trying. One young man answered:
“A digital footprint is when you step on a computer.”
Interestingly, questions that most students answered correctly included:
- “What is an “avatar’?” (50% got this right, with answers like, “My computer person”). Some got this wrong although I knew that they knew what it meant (“I don’t know how to explain it”).
Finally, the question that the most students got right (58%) was:
- “Give an example of information that should never be shared online.”
Terms that adults use liberally—“digital citizenship,” “digital footprint”—mean nothing to kids, at least not to the 6th graders I taught last year. Yet, they do hear our admonitions about what “not” to do online loud and clear. Many of my students knew not to post personal info, passwords, age, or even “mean things” about others. Yet the underlying reasons or long-term implications of doing so were not clear to them (that it can damage their reputations, for example). Just as memorizing the answers to a test doesn’t constitute true “learning,” being able to recite what one shouldn’t do online, isn’t “digital citizenship.” Plus, it is light years away from understanding how to use powerful digital technologies to their full and positive capacities.
The final question I asked 6th grade students on their post-assessment was this:
- “What is the most important thing you’ve learned in this class this year?”
Here are some of their answers:
- “How to control my digital footprint.”
- “To always stand up for others.”
- “How to be safe and smart and kind online.”
- “Think twice before you do stuff online.”
- “Everything you do online is important.”
In the end, the average class score was 90.6% (questions answered correctly). Nearly two-thirds of the class got all 12 questions right (see the questions below).
In 7th grade students learn “Information Literacy” skills (how to find, retrieve, analyze, and use online information), they also learn how, and why, to protect their personal information online. Like their 6th grade peers, their pre-assessment score was low; overall the class only earned a 12% (percent correct).
Similar to the 6th graders, only some of the 7th graders were familiar with the terminology of web information and search (keywords, Wikipedia, copyright, fair use, browser, cookies, search engine, etc.), but even those students lacked a true understanding of what these terms mean and others were completely off base. For example, one student wrote, “a keyword is kind of an important word I think,” another said, “’fair use’ is when you are writing a paragraph, but you put it in your own words.” Some of their answers were truly hilarious, such as the answers to these questions: “What is “Creative Commons?” (“commas that are creative”) and “What are ‘cookies’”? (“a tasty treat”).
Year 2’s assessment was difficult, so I was very surprised that students did so well, and remembered so much, at the end of the year (93.5%). Often I give the same assessment to teachers and parents—at workshops and presentations—and find that even adults struggle with basic questions regarding Internet research (you can see all the questions on the following page).
Regarding online privacy, one thing is clear, even students who are just starting to use the Internet, email, social media, etc. are bothered by the deluge of emails we all suffer from… for example, in answer to the question: “What do you receive in exchange for the personal information you provide an app or website?” on the pre-assessment one boy responded, “Emails, so many emails.”
The final question of the 7th grade assessment was:
- “What was the most valuable lesson you learned in this class?”
Here are some of their responses:
- “To always protect your personal information.”
- “To know what cookies do.”
- “How to make a good password.”
- “Now I know what a third party is.”
- “One day I want to become a famous D.J. so learning about copyright is very important to me.”
- “I don’t have a specific most valuable lesson I learned because actually EVERYTHING is the most important.”
When putting Year 3 of Cyber Civics together, reading, “Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership” by the TeachThought staff, inspired me. This article addresses the importance of…
“moving from mere “citizenship” to inspired leadership in digital spaces, using two definitions from George Couros:
Digital Citizenship: Using the internet and social media in a responsible and ethical way.
Digital Leadership: Using the internet and social media to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.
The idea behind the shift? A kind of empathy–moving beyond seeing one’s self, and moving towards seeing one’s self in the physical and digital company of others. As digital technology and social media become more deeply embedded in our lives, and more nuanced in their function, this is a shift whose time has come.” The question becomes, then, what’s the next evolution of this idea?”
So this third and final year of Cyber Civics attempts to answer this question (call?) with lessons that help students learn how to become powerful media participants by showing them how to use technology to engage and contribute in positive ways to the world around them. The first half of the year focuses on “Media Literacy” (the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms), the year finishes with a final project that challenges students put together all they’ve learned during three years of Cyber Civics lessons to transition from being media consumers to media participants.
So assessments in Year 3 look different. At the beginning of the year students self-assess their own media use to determine how much media they “consume” (i.e., watching YouTube videos, Netflix, etc.) vs. how much they “produce” (blogging, making and posting videos, writing music, etc.). Then they use math skills to express their data as a pie chart:
At the end of the year, students self-assess again to see if their media “production” has increased, and guess what? We moved the needle!
These were the class averages at the beginning of the year:
96% “consuming”: 4% “producing.”
And these were class averages at the end of the year (we moved the needle, hurrah!):
59% “consuming”; 41% “producing.”
Commonly, adults assume that because young people seem so proficient at using technology (pushing the buttons) that they must also know how to use it proactively, but this is not the case. Actually, technology is using them! They need our help, and encouragement, to learn how to use technology to express themselves, to create positive digital footprints, and to engage in activities and topics they care about. With a few lessons on these topics, I found students becoming eager and excited media participants.
At the end of the year I asked the 8th graders what lessons they found most valuable, and overwhelmingly they were grateful for the lessons on “sexting” (and also on Photoshop/Visual Literacy). This was not surprising because of where kids are developmentally, what they see/hear in the media, and the fact that few adults talk to them about these topics.
Here are sample responses to the question, “What is the most important thing you learned this year?”:
“The most important thing I learned is how sexting can ruin your life.”
“Choose friends wisely (because of sexting).”
“Photoshop is crazy and should be outlawed.”
“How to handle sexting situations.”
“C.R.A.P. Detection skills.”
“How to make a positive digital footprint.”
“How to know if a website is fake.”
“How to give credit.”
“How to find valuable information online.”
Finally, I asked students:
“What is the most important thing you learned over the past three years?”
Here were the most common responses:
“Learning about copyright” (who knew they’d find this interesting?!)
“To ask permission of other before you post their personal image/info.”
“How to cite online information.”
“Plagiarism, copyright laws and rules.”
“How important my digital footprint is.”
“What to do if I see cyberbullying.”
I think I will let this student have the last word:
“There is nothing not important that I learned.”