Curriculum integration of digital citizenship

For teachers and students at St Columban's College, digital citizenship isn't a one-off lesson or a bolt-on program delivered at a set time of the year. It's at the heart of the curriculum, in all subjects and across all year levels.

As Director of Special Projects at the Queensland secondary school, Dr Talitha Kingsmill leads the focus on CIDC – Curriculum Integrating Digital Citizenship. She tells Teacher the role involves working with Senior Leadership Team members, Heads of Faculty, staff and students on pedagogy and practice, and to generally ‘keep the digital citizenship priority “bubbling” and on the community radar'.

Kristina Dolejs, Assistant Principal (Student Wellbeing), says it is a big focus area for the college. ‘We believe strongly in the need for our students to be informed and able to make responsible choices, including, and especially, when it comes their use of digital technology.'

Kingsmill recalls her passion for digital citizenship was ignited around a decade ago while coordinating the one-to-one laptop rollout for the college, just before the Federal Government's Digital Education Revolution funding hit. She says the programs in Australia, and internationally, meant schools went from a couple of rooms with computers to students having a laptop, iPad or some sort of device for their use in classrooms and often at home – whether that's provided by the school or under a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy.

That created new issues, not just with the technology itself and how students were using the devices, but also in terms of supporting staff. ‘I just thought to myself “this is not sustainable, we need to be doing something about it”. Like everyone, we were putting out one fire and another was starting, and so that began a journey for me of doing a lot of reading and thinking about [solutions]. Most of the reading was US-based because they were advanced from us in terms of what they were experiencing. We hit on exactly what I was looking for – digital citizenship and a proactive, empowering framework where we could look at building everyone's digital capacities.' In 2017, Kingsmill completed her doctoral research concerning how a school community experiences teaching and learning about digital citizenship in a secondary school curriculum.

The digital citizenship framework adopted by the college was created by Dr Mike Ribble and Dr Gerard Bailey in 2006 and has nine elements:

  • Digital Access;
  • Digital Etiquette;
  • Digital Law;
  • Digital Literacy;
  • Digital Communication;
  • Digital Commerce;
  • Digital Security;
  • Digital Health and Wellness; and,
  • Digital Rights and Responsibilities.

The nine elements are underpinned by three themes:

  • Respecting yourself and others;
  • Educating yourself and others; and,
  • Protecting yourself and others.

‘It's a lens, through which you can actually look at the online environment – how we participate in digital society and therefore learn, and so forth,' Kingsmill explains. She adds it was clear early on that digital citizenship was relevant across all faculties and year levels and so the decision was taken to integrate it into the curriculum. ‘I believed that if we were going to really invest, fiscally, human-power … everything into this, we had to really commit to it. If we really wanted it to be the focus of something we had to put it in the heart of the curriculum. So that's what we did.'

Kingsmill worked with faculty leaders and staff to create a dedicated, volunteer-led Digital Citizenship Taskforce, and the ‘Digital Citizenship – Making the Connections' (DCMC) project began in 2011. Kingsmill was able to secure Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme funding through Brisbane Catholic Education to support the work. There were five stages to the project:

  • An investigation and exploration of the concept of digital citizenship;
  • A curriculum audit in Years 8 and 9;
  • An inter-faculty synopsis and analysis reflecting and acting on the audit;
  • Planning sessions to develop units of work; and,
  • Presentations and communications to promote the initiative to the wider school community (including students and parents).

An ongoing, online professional learning group was also developed to promote staff discussion and share professional reading, stimulus material and initiatives.

Explaining the curriculum audit process, Kingsmill says, at the time, the state's high schools didn't include Year 7, so St Columban's began with Year 8 and 9. The audit looked at what was currently being taught, the natural connections to digital citizenship and how it could enhance and deepen the learning. ‘The overwhelming experience was it did enhance the topics. For example, [in 2011-12] there were still a lot of Business units where the students were learning about marketing, but the textbooks and what was happening hadn't caught up with eMarketing, hadn't caught up with looking at the influence of social media on business practices, and those types of things. So, therefore, it was actually a really lovely process for the staff because they were updating the curriculum and, at the same time, making those connections between digital citizenship and the curriculum.'

She says the strength of the approach, and something confirmed by her own doctoral research, is that students and staff want and benefit from contextualised, integrated teaching and learning – happening in a subject when it's appropriate – rather than a discrete program. ‘For students, it's got to be relevant and authentic to their learning. They actually don't want to be using labels, they don't want to be talking about “digital citizenship” as such (or other people might say “eSafety” or “cyber safety”) and having a lesson on that. They want it to enhance what they're doing here, learning it at a point in time when it's relevant, when it's contextual, when they feel they need to be learning about it.'

It also helps to bridge the digital disconnect that sees students using devices in completely different ways outside school. ‘Making it contextualised learning is actually just making their experience of school, and before school and after school, more seamless.'

The CIDC approach is embedded across Years 7-12, although Kingsmill points out there is less flexibility in the senior curriculum so the aim is to establish good foundations in the middle and junior secondary years. ‘Really, by Year 11 our students need to be very au fait with different parts of digital literacy that they're going to need for their assignment work and they need to be discerning in terms of what websites they're using and so forth. So, those skills are put in place through practise and through explicit teaching prior to that.'

She says the support of Principal Ann Rebgetz has been one of the keys to its success. ‘It's really important that it wasn't a bolt-on. If you're going to do something like this you really need to have a commitment from your principal. I remember going to Ann and saying “this is the vision, but it's not something that you can start if you're not then going to be able to allocate time, resources and priority to”.'

There has been extensive professional development for staff, including retreats in 2012 and 2015. All new members of staff receive digital citizenship sessions as part of their orientation process and all staff receive top up sessions as required (for example, if they're moving into a new role). Kingsmill also meets regularly with Heads of Faculty for visioning and planning sessions to ensure new curriculum demands are met.

She says the major challenge has been time. ‘That's where it became very important that the learning was actually contextualised and relevant. We've done some great work for example in Year 9 Maths assessment where they need something to use as data, so why not make it very relevant to them? One of the pieces looks at social media usage, the time and the different platforms that the students use. Another looks at texting … so, it's very relevant.

‘That's the skill in putting it in there and making it relevant and having everybody understand the importance of that. Because, generally, most professional educators these days would agree that it's a very important thing to build capacity of our students and indeed ourselves. So, it's about setting up support structures.'

Are you providing authentic and relevant learning experiences for your students?

As a school leader, when implementing a new program or initiative what support is put in place for staff? Does this include initial and top-up professional learning?

As a faculty or leadership team, how often do you revisit units of work to ensure new curriculum demands are being met?