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Learning Library Blog Use images to kick off digital citizenship conversations
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Use images to kick off digital citizenship conversations

By Kristen Mattson
July 27, 2017
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Digital citizenship conversations can be intimidating for students and educators alike. Students might worry their teacher or peers won’t understand their experiences. Educators may feel some trepidation over coming off as uninformed or out of the loop if they’re not using the same digital platforms, terminology or devices their students are.

One way to ease fear and kick off conversations about digital citizenship in the classroom is to take yourself out of the position of “expert” and allow students to reflect and share about their experiences in digital communities with broader strokes rather than with personal, and perhaps private, experiences.

Doing this helps students understand the Digital Citizen standard within the ISTE Standards for Students, which expects students to recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world and act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.   

You can facilitate this type of broad sharing and reflection by bringing in images like the ones below and the hundreds of others I have curated here. These images, often created by artists to make powerful statements, can be a non-threatening way to get students to open up about life in digital spaces and the ways technology both negatively impacts and positively benefits society as a whole.

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In many content areas, including health, civics, economics and English, it’s easy to elevate student voice with some carefully selected images and one of the following activities:

Bell Ringers: Have an image projected on the screen when students walk into the classroom. Give them five minutes at the start of class to journal their thoughts about the image. This activity is meant to be open-ended, allowing students time to reflect without the pressure of having to share aloud or have the “right” answer.

Gallery Walk
: Choose five to seven images around a similar topic like data and privacy, for example, and hold a gallery walk. Print and hang a copy of each image on the walls around your classroom. Ask students to take a notebook with them as they walk around the room, spend 2-3 minutes at each image and silently write their thoughts about the piece. After they’ve seen each image, students choose the one piece that spoke to them most and congregate around it with other classmates to have some deeper discussion and reflection.

: Ask students to select an image they disagree with and develop a counter-narrative that challenges the artist’s message. Their counter-narrative might be shared through another piece of artwork, a photograph, or even a short poem or video.
No matter how you choose to use these images in your classroom, you can help students reflect by asking:

  1. What is the creator of this piece trying to say about life in a digital age?
  2. Have you, your friends or family members had experiences like those the artist is depicting?
  3. Do you agree or disagree with this artist’s message? Why?
  4. What aspects of life in a digital community might the artist be overlooking?
  5. What can we learn about our fellow digital citizens through this image?

Kristen Mattson is a high school library media center director in Aurora, Illinois, where she partners with teachers to integrate digital literacy, research skills, creation and innovation into the classroom. As part of a Future Ready school district, she has embraced the Future Ready Librarians framework to transform her school’s library space and practices. She enjoys supporting fellow librarians by hosting site visits, facilitating professional development and moderating the Future Ready Librarians’ Facebook group. She blogs at

Find more ways to empower your students as active digital citizens in Mattson’s new book, Digital Citizenship in Action: Empowering Students to Engage in Online Communities, available now for pre-order.