Dr. Christine Johns

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Students offer perspectives on how social media helps them learn

I am fortunate to meet regularly with a great group of secondary students in the context of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Board (SSAB). Through our meetings, students have an opportunity to share their thoughts about their high school and Utica Community Schools in general and how the district is preparing them for future success.

Members of the SSAB represent junior high schools, high schools and specialized programs in our district. Together we discuss a wide range of topics that impact them and their classmates, including course rigor, curricular and co-curricular activities and district procedures and policies. Our conversations vary meeting to meeting, but one subject continues to hold particular interest with the students – that being technology and staying connected.

As digital natives who have never known a time without social media and personal devices, the students are eager for technology to have a bigger role in supporting teaching and learning in our classrooms. Virtual tools are integral to their personal lives and they definitely favor more use in their academic lives.

A recognized national leader in the effective use of classroom technology, Utica Community Schools is steadily expanding digital opportunities for students. But even as we introduce more advanced technology, we are aware that students must also learn to use digital tools safely and appropriately. We must teach our students – our children – how to be good citizens as they interact in the virtual world. A number of articles have already been posted on this initiative in the superintendent’s blog: https://drchristinejohns.wordpress.com/

Technology is a powerful tool when used appropriately. As parents and educators, we must work together to understand our students’ passion for technology and how we can guide them in its best use.

To help advance this understanding, I asked my SSAB members to describe how social media impacts their lives and how it can support their education.

Here are examples of what they had to say:

In school we use Web sites such as Edmodo and Schoology that allow us to have discussions with classmates and our teacher. Our teachers post quizzes and blogs that enhance our learning. They also post important dates and assignments. Technology and social media have had such a huge impact on my life and when you use it in the right way, it can really benefit your learning.”
Samantha Belz
10th Grade
Stevenson High School

Many of my teachers have their own Web sites and blog pages in which they post homework questions, future assignments, and the class agenda. It is especially good for someone like me who likes to be ahead of the curve. Teachers also allow students to post a question online, which is great because it saves time in class for new material and allows for instant help.

I also use social media to ask questions. It helps you to form an online study group in which all participants share some of their knowledge and receive help when needed. The use of social media is also an excellent way to communicate upcoming events to the student body.
Shawn Spezia
11th Grade
Eisenhower High School

I use social media if I don’t understand or have a question about a homework assignment. Social media sites like Edmodo and Schoology allow me to contact my friends who are in that class. I can also contact the teacher directly.
Katelyn Elder
11th Grade
Utica High School

I use the Internet for a lot of things. I mostly use it for research and looking up words, but with social media and the Internet you can keep up on assignments.

Furthermore, half of my teachers use Remind 101 to announce and remind us when we are starting an assignment or when there is a test, quiz or major assignment. This helps me a lot.

Also, with Facebook, you can ask friends that are in your classes if they can help you with a certain question that they might have on an assignment. Social media can be a very positive thing when it comes to education because it can provide more information and understanding towards a certain subject.
Cameron Walker
9th Grade
Henry Ford II High School

Social media has shaped many aspects of our world, including the education system. I use many social media tools to enhance my learning process. One of these tools is Google Docs, which allows multiple people to work on the same project at the same time. Google Doc saves automatically and is very convenient because all members working on a group project have an updated copy at all times. Tools such as this offer new opportunities to stimulate more efficient collaboration between students in the classroom.
Sarah Bussineau
10th Grade
Eisenhower High School


Leaving a Positive Digital Footprint

Our kids call it TMI – Too Much Information. It is a message they send to friends to show there are some things they just do not need to share.

It is the same message we need to send our students about the information they post in the digital world.

Just as our children leave foot imprints in the sand, they also leave an impression when they interact on their digital devices. However, unlike the footprints in sand, the impressions they leave in a digital world can stay with them long into their future. We call the concept digital footprinting.

Anyone sharing information through digital media needs to understand that they are sharing things about themselves to a broad audience. Just like adults, children need to be aware that what they write in a post is open to a wide audience and inappropriate use can have a long-term impact. Employers and even college admissions officers are using social media with greater frequency to review applicants.

Kaplan Test Prep, a national company that prepares students for college recruitment and tests, surveyed college admissions officers last year and found that over a quarter of them now use social media to check backgrounds of applicants (Kaplan Test Prep Survey Finds That College Admissions Officers’ Discovery of Online Material Damaging to Applicants Nearly Triples in a Year – (http://press.kaptest.com/press-releases/kaplan-test-prep-survey-finds-that-college-admissions-officers-discovery-of-online-material-damaging-to-applicants-nearly-triples-in-a-year)

Likewise, a recent study commissioned by Microsoft found that 79 percent of employers considered an on-line background check of their prospective employees. (On-line Reputation in a Connected World: http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9709510).

I work closely with a student advisory committee that consists of a representative from each secondary school. The students talk a great deal about the importance of technology in their life. These secondary students see the critical role of technology and how the use of their personal devices – their phones or tablets – can be powerful tools in classrooms.

As we discuss these tools, we also talk about the need to teach young students the appropriate use of technology for acquiring information and learning both inside and outside the classroom. They see in their friends and in their own interactions the importance of setting limits and using good judgment when using digital media.

In response to this issue, Utica Community Schools has partnered with Common Sense Media to develop pilot lessons on digital citizenship.

In early elementary, the concept of a digital footprints is shared with students through an activity called “Follow the Digital Trail.” Students learn that what they put on-line leaves information about themselves. As students move into junior high, the conversations focus on how they can control their digital footprints through their on-line actions and posts.

Parents are important partners for us as we teach students the appropriate use of technology. There are a number of resources available that will help guide you on talking to your children about digital footprints.

Some reference articles include:

A video on digital footprint from Common Sense Media
A site for students – What are digital footprints?
Digital Life – Our Kids’ Connected Culture
Discussion Guide – Privacy and Digital Footprints

Dr. Christine Johns
Utica Community Schools

Digital access requires digital citizenship

The students who fill our classrooms are true digital natives. They have been raised in a world that relies so heavily on smart devices that it is hard to imagine life without them.

At the same time, technology has become an essential learning tool in every Utica Community Schools classroom. Each day, our students use interactive whiteboards, iPads, smart phones, laptops and other devices to access information and learn in exciting new ways.

Enjoying the many benefits of technology also requires our students to learn and practice digital responsibility. As growing numbers of younger children acquire their own personal devices and establish one-to-one connections with individuals online, Internet safety concerns are on the rise.

According to “Digital Life: Our Kids’ Connected Culture” (Common Sense Media, 2012), the average 8- to 18-year-old spends more than seven hours a day online – texting and socializing, watching videos, playing games and listening to music. Experts from Common Sense Media, one of the district’s educational partners, believe children may not always make a distinction between the real world and the virtual one, at times with unintended consequences.

As youngsters become increasingly skilled in using digital media, it is essential for them to also understand that once their words, photos or videos are launched on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, etc. they are there for all to see – maybe forever. A momentary lapse in judgment can lead to damaged reputations, ruined friendships, even lost employment or legal action.

Utica Community Schools has made the commitment that, as we introduce ever more advanced technology to provide our students with world-class learning, we will also focus on teaching them responsible digital citizenship and cyberspace safety. It is an effort that can succeed only with support from parents and the community.

Most people agree that technology is an amazing learning and communication tool. But as with any powerful tool, youngsters must be taught how to use it appropriately. Avoiding cyber-bullying, practicing online safety, managing time spent using devices and other important issues must be openly discussed with our young people – not only in school but at home.

To advance this dialogue, Utica Community Schools will begin piloting developmentally and age-appropriate digital citizenship concepts in some of its elementary and junior high schools this semester.

Parents are also encouraged to find out what educators and families across the county are doing to promote online learning and safety awareness.

In Utica Community Schools we believe that educating our children and keeping them safe is a responsibility shared by school, home and community. We look forward to continuing that vital partnership as we prepare today’s digital natives for leadership in tomorrow’s global society.

Below are articles that I recommend for UCS parents to learn more how we can work together to promote good digital citizenship:

Raising a Digital Child

Digital Life: Our Kids’ Connected Culture

Be a Good Digital Citizen: Tips for Teens and Parents

Living Life Online: Federal Trade Commission

Dr. Christine Johns
Utica Community Schools