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Get your students on the road to digital citizenship with a digital driver's license

By Gerry Swan
December 28, 2018
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As more schools go 1:1 and embrace bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives, the need to teach students — and educators — about digital citizenship is intensifying. In fact, the U.S. Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act emphasize the responsibility of U.S. schools and districts to teach students about internet safety.

But what’s the best way to do that? Well, just as motorists take driver’s education to learn how to recognize and react to road situations, digital age students need a course in how to navigate precarious situations online, such as cyberbullying and copyright infringement.

That’s what led us in 2011 to develop the Digital Driver’s License (DDL) project, a free and easy-to-navigate resource that schools or individuals can use to teach and measure digital citizenship proficiency.

The DDL is both a platform and curriculum. The “license” is a set of scenarios, or cases, designed to expose students to crucial concepts and build their skills in the nine elements of digital citizenship. The content covers a broad range of topics, such as digital communications, etiquette, security, commerce, law, media fluency, and health and wellness.

Two types of assessments test students’ knowledge

The cases themselves are embedded with two types of assessments: practice-its and prove-its. Practice-its lay out the cases and then provide feedback. For example, one question might ask if a particular situation constitutes copyright infringement. When students submit their answer, they receive an explanation that either confirms their thinking or offers corrective advice.

Here’s an example:

Question: Jamie is working on a “You Look Like a Celebrity” page for the soon-to-be-published school yearbook. His job is to find pictures of celebrities resembling students. He has found several images online that will be perfect and gets to work editing the yearbook page. Is this OK?

Your answer: Yes, it is perfectly fine if the pictures Jamie found were from an amateur photographer who takes a lot of pictures in Hollywood and posts them to a site like Flickr.

Feedback: No, it is not legal if Jamie does a Google search, finds some great images, saves them on his desktop and starts putting them in the yearbook layout. Not only did Jamie not cite where he got the images, but more than likely, the photographer did not release them for public or commercial use. Jamie could request permission from the artist, but most of the time photographers are hard to find. Jamie should either cite the sources of the images if they are released to be reproduced or do some Creative Commons searches for different images.

Students can level up after passing prove-its

The second type of assessment is called a prove-it, where students take a quiz and receive an overall score but do not know which questions were incorrect. Students can take a prove-it when they feel they are ready and retake them as many times as necessary. The system will email a designated teacher when a student passes a prove-it and is ready to go on to the next level.

We recently added a “reviewed prove-it” for schools that require a performance assessment. For this type of prove-it, students link to their evidence (a Google Doc, a YouTube video, a Twitter chat they moderated), and a designated educator can view it and approve the submission. This process takes the place of the auto-graded quizzes in the standard prove-it. Once signed off, the case will be marked complete and count toward license completion.

School and district personnel can access summaries that show which students have completed licenses and get detailed reports of assessments. Once students pass all the cases required by their school or district, they get their digital citizenship license.

The school or district determines how long the DDL is valid. Some school districts require students to recertify their DDLs every year. Others allow licenses to remain valid until the student leaves school. Because student accounts are connected to the school, students who move to a new school simply update their information and the data automatically transfer to the new school.

More than 150,000 users from 50 U.S. states and 10 countries have gone through the program. Although the program was originally designed for high school students, any individual or group can use the web-based platform and customize the content to fit their needs. For instance, some schools have tailored the content to make it appropriate for elementary and middle school students.

How districts are using the DDL project

Some schools use the structured cases to spark classroom conversations on digital citizenship. Others require each student to go through the program individually. Here’s a glimpse of the myriad ways schools are using the DDL program:

Customized licenses. At Frelinghuysen Middle School in New Jersey, teacher Chrissie Flanagan and her students used material from some of the cases, added their own content and created their own custom license. Like users of Linux and other open-source software, DDL users become co-developers, not just consumers.

Embedded safeguards. Schools implementing 1:1 initiatives are embedding the DDL program into their rollouts to reassure parents and school board members that the students will be highly trained on topics such as cyberbullying or copyright violation before they get school-issued devices.

Proven proficiency. Other districts use the DDL program as tiered prerequisites for BYOD initiatives. Before permitting students to use their personal technology at school, they must prove proficiency in appropriate and legal use. One district gave students access to an increasing level of unfiltered content as they leveled up toward their DDL. 

Social media skills. In another district, the DDL became part of a communications course. Students earned their DDL before they could embark on building a social media presence for a local organization.

Prepared teachers. Several teacher education programs have started using the DDL project as a component of a larger course, just as schools are using the DDL as one piece of a technology implementation.

In all of these examples, schools, districts and colleges chose the DDL program because it allowed them to access student responses, gauge levels of success, provide feedback, reset passwords and monitor activity. Plus, there’s an added benefit that we stumbled upon: After a few schools shared pictures of students proudly wearing their custom DDL badges, we decided to create a badge through the Mozilla Open Badge project. Now when students earn their DDLs, they get a Mozilla badge to display in their Mozilla backpack.

While the initial focus is on digital citizenship, we hope the excitement about blended learning and open educational resources will lead educators and organizations to develop other types of licenses. The DDL is a great example of what educators can do with readily available software tools, some thoughtful design and collaboration.

Need guidance for teaching digital citizenship in your school or district? The Digital Citizenship Academy series is a self-paced online course covering the major issues surrounding digital citizenship and how to address them in schools. 

Gerry Swan is an associate professor of instructional systems design at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. One of his main interests is the design of data systems that act as a catalyst for improving learning.

Marty Park is chief digital officer for the Kentucky Department of Education. He is a doctoral student in instructional systems design at the University of Kentucky and an adjunct professor in education technology instruction and leadership at Georgetown College.