Teaching Responsibility in the Wild West of Cyberspace

| By Allison Sheppard

Last summer, The DigitalJLearning Network had the pleasure of taking 15 Jewish day school educators to the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA. The participants shared their learning from the conference and what they hoped to implement in the coming school year. Now we're catching up with these educators and finding out how their new educational technology initiatives are going. Allison Sheppard, Director of Technology at Margolin Hebrew Academy, shares her thoughts in the next installment in this new blog series.


For many people over 30, our lives can be divided into two great epochs: before the Internet, and after the Internet. Amazingly, before the Internet, we had contests about who could identify a line from a movie read aloud, or who sang a certain song while listening to the radio. It would take hours or even days sometimes for us to figure out the answer! Fast-forward 20 years, and now one can ask Siri for the answer, or use an app for figuring out the song (e.g. Shazam.) By the way, even the word I just used at the beginning of the previous sentence dates back to an era in which media like cassette tapes and VCR tapes actually had to be fast-forwarded or rewound.

Hey, all of these apps and conveniences are great. The cyberworld offers ways to express ourselves creatively and to connect with others in ways that were previously impossible. Yet with this vast amount of data, information, and connectivity, comes a vast need for stewardship. Stewardship, it’s a word that’s an oldie, but a goodie. Stewardship comes from the Old English word for house-guardian or overseer. This is a very important, very pertinent issue today. Earlier this year, President Obama signed an executive order calling for companies to work together to better tame what he dubbed, the “wild, wild West” of cyberspace. The New York Times quoted President Obama as saying, “The very technologies that can empower us to do great good can also be used to undermine us and do great harm.” By calling for stewardship over digital resources, I mean to convey that we have a responsibility to use wisely and protect the huge advantages (and, of course, risks) afforded by these tools and toys.

Cyberbullying and digital warfare may seem far-removed, until something happens to you or your children. Seemingly innocuous jokes can quickly be perceived as threatening, and even bullying. Foolish comments, photos, or careless disclosures of personal information leave a digital footprint that may never fully fade. You may be surprised to learn that state and federal law hasn’t been quick to keep up with this digital boom. Laws regarding cyber-behavior either don’t exist or are so vague that often people may find no options in the way of legal recourse for actions that occur in the cyber domain.

One of the most meaningful connections I made at the ISTE conference last summer began at one of the round-table discussion sessions hosted by The DigitalJLearning Network. I met a fellow technology educator, Amanda Dawes, Dean of Technology Integration for the high school at Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. In addition to many great ideas, Amanda told me about a free, online digital ethics curriculum that she helped implement at her school.

This semester at my own school, Margolin Hebrew Academy, we began blazing our trail into the wild West of the Internet by implementing a Digital Citizenship curriculum developed by Common Sense Media. This excellent collection offers age-appropriate lessons, videos, games, and take-home activities all about digital ethics for children in grades K through 12. This course of study is recommended by Facing History and Ourselves and is utilized by many Jewish days schools and other independent schools around the country. The module for elementary school is called Digital Passport. Amanda White, our elementary librarian, and I have already started teaching our third through sixth graders about digital citizenship during their library time. We will continue using the curriculum with grades one through six next year in the elementary school. Additionally Upper School Principal, Rabbi Uriel Lubetski, and I will be implementing the high school module of this curriculum called Digital Compass during regularly scheduled Life Skills classes in the coming weeks.

Topics covered under the digital citizenship umbrella include Internet Safety, Cyberbullying/Digital Drama, Digital Footprints/Reputation, Information Literacy, and Creative Credit/Copyright. You can check out the detailed lesson topics and overviews here.

We encourage parents, as partners in the education and development of students, to speak with their children regularly about technology usage, the digital footprint they will be leaving online, and the information they will be sharing with the world.

If you wish to contact me for more details regarding lesson planning, usage of Common Sense online resources, lesson timing, etc. please feel free to email me at allison.sheppard@mhafyos.org.


Want to learn more about bringing digital citizenship lessons to your classroom? Contact us through Ask DJLN, our free help desk!

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