School division faces the online world head on

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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With the online world being a daunting subject, Sask. Rivers School Division decided to tackle the problem in their annual public engagement workshop.

Alec Couros spoke to Sask. Rivers School Division about digital citizenship on Friday.

Teachers, community members and students gathered at the Education Centre to hear Alec Couros from the University of Regina talk about “Social Media and Our Online World.”

“This is very prevalent in our culture today to have our students and our teaching staff be very familiar with what is happening online because we don’t only use computers in schools -- there’s obviously use of the computers at home and they are used as a teaching tool, they are used as a social tool and they are used as an entertainment tool,” board chair Barry Hollick said.

Couros said he was talking about digital citizenship, including digital identity, better understanding how students are using social media and technology and how they are connecting.

Since social media and technology are huge aspects of students’ lives, he was also discussing what it means for the schools, how they can proceed in better educating students and protecting their identities as well as looking at it in a positive light and seeing how kids can shape their world with the new tools they have.

“We see kids get into trouble all the time online -- that’s certainly a concern,” Couros said. “There is a safety aspect certainly, but ultimately I think one of the things I used during the presentation is Google is your new business card and having a positive digital identity which is searchable is really important for job searches.”

Although secondary and post-secondary institutions help students with their credentials, sometimes the online world will hinder your ability to find work.

“Sometimes employability is harmed by your digital footprint or a negative digital footprint,” he said. “I think that is becoming incredibly important, getting a sense of how do we manage these new tools and we are seeing students use them for a number of reasons.”

One of the most popular topics at the workshop was digital identity and how to help students make wise decisions around their identity and the content they choose.

“Probably another one is the teaching aspect of it -- how do we use some of these new technologies specifically mobile technologies, in our classrooms to engage students,” Couros said. “I think there is a big connect between how we use tools to engage students in classes with how they might use it elsewhere, so they see the professional use of technology and that really positively affects their outlook of technology in their personal lives.”

He also discussed a little bit about cyberbullying in the afternoon.

“If we create a more positive approach to technology … when you create these positive spaces that helps to fight cyberbullying in a much more systemic approach rather than trying to simply saying something to a student such as, ‘Don’t bully,’” Couros said. “It is not going to help. Our approaches to cyberbullying have been pretty weak in the past because they have always been reactive instead of proactive and they are always on particular instances.”

There were three key groups at the presentation, Hollick said -- principals and vice principals, representatives from schools community councils and representatives from the Student Voice groups.

It was great to reach different types of people to have everyone know about the important topic, he said.

The principals and vice principals are in charge of making sure that school policies are carried out, the community representatives have the viewpoint from looking at various communities and neighbourhoods and the students let them hear straight from those they are educating.

“We have included all three groups and we are hoping that it is going to be productive for everybody because learning about the Internet and proper use of computers is really important,” Hollick said. “When people are out of the school, there is no policing of computer use in the home. Hopefully everybody is going to get some good ideas here and see exactly how computer use and Internet use is advantageous for everybody.”

Couros said it was great to see so many different people in the crowd.

“I think it is great when you get this many people together,” he said. “I think what is great is students are the ones who actually saw me present in Regina at a youth leadership summit presented by the government and they are the ones that advised this would be a good fit for this.

“They brought me in to speak to the other members of this group today and I think that is really great -- in a sense it is student led,” he added. “They are seeing this is an important topic for … the adults in control of their lives in many cases, so I think that was good.”

The students were pleased to be included in the event.

“He has a lot of good points and varied views -- it is not just one single viewpoint,” student Cali Stocks said. “He talks about it from the student perspective as well as the parents and teachers perspective, which is nice to hear all those things.”

She said it was good for students and educators to be there because often you don’t understand the viewpoint of the other person.

“It is not always easy for the students to see where the teachers are coming from or the teachers to see where the students are coming from unless they are actually there hearing the same information from the same presenter,” Stocks said.

Both Hollick and Couros also said having both the students and teachers there showed how important it was for both groups to attend.

“I’ve been sitting here this morning and finding out about sites and actually taking polls online that I wasn’t aware of,” Hollick said. “I marvel at one of our students across the room who puts his hand up because he is familiar with every single topic that our presenter has talked about today.

“For me, a lot of this is new and I am learning a lot and I just wish I had more time to spend on it.”

“It shows a disconnect between what students know and their lives versus what adults know about technology,” Couros added. “I think it provides adults with a reason to learn more.”

For more information about the topic, Couros said people are welcome to join a massive online class supported by the Ministry of Education he is currently putting on found at dcmooc.ca.

Organizations: Education Centre, University of Regina, Google Ministry of Education

Geographic location: Cali

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