Posted by: Chris Toy | November 14, 2013

Digital Learning Series: Helping Parents and Educators Raise Good Digital Citizens

By Ed Brazee, Jill Spencer, and Chris Toy

This post first appeared on the Platform For Good Blog,, and is being reposted with permission.

Ed, Jill, and Chris are experienced educators who also run the blog, Digital Citizenship 4 All.

At Digital Citizenship 4 All, we think the digital culture that our children and students experience every day makes it essential for families and educators to collaborate as never before. As barriers between home and school have tumbled, it is especially critical for these two groups to be knowledgeable about learning and technology, how students can use the many digital tools available to them, and most importantly, how they must support each other in these endeavors.

In our Digital Learning Series, written for middle and high school students, their families, and their teachers, we’ve designed eight interactive modules on topics that we think are essential. Here is a brief tour through a number of topics that teens, their parents, and their teachers should be talking about.

In “First Impressions Matter, Putting Your Best Foot Forward,” we emphasize the critical connection between a person’s digital footprint and their online reputation. Will Rogers put it best when he said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Knowing when to be smart about online posts and how to monitor online behavior is key.

“Creating and Protecting Your Online Reputation” gives an in-depth look at how we are all digitally knowable. Here we show students how to locate their online activities – both the ones they know about and others that surprise them. This is also the time when middle school students should begin to build a “site” – a type of digital portfolio – where they can be found online.

In “To Be or Not To Be, Personal Branding,” students learn to build their personal brand. At what point should they switch from being relatively anonymous online to using their own name as their brand? What does our email name say about us? What do our posts, photos, and online activity hint about our reputation? All of these things comprise our brand and define us, for good or bad, in others’ eyes. Although a new phenomenon, personal online branding must be a topic of conversation both at home and at school.

“Ensuring Online Safety and Privacy” is about staying safe online by following a few simple guidelines. As much as we would like to think that by being careful we can maintain our privacy, the reality is that there is no privacy online, and students need to know that. One way to be safe online is to be vigilant about setting strong passwords and never, ever sharing account information with others.

All of these early modules are in preparation for “Presenting Yourself Online – Where Will You Be Found.” For this, students must create their own online presence in the form of a personal resume or digital portfolio, which is what we call their digital backpack. It is absolutely critical for middle and high school students to have a thoughtfully-crafted online presence where potential employers, college admissions officers, or anyone else, can find them and form a positive first impression. While many teens think Facebook is that place, it is not. It’s essential that teens have a professional presence that they control and that showcases their skills, abilities, accomplishments, and goals. There are many formats available, but students commonly use websites, blogs, wikis, or some other digital format that works for them.

Finally, in “Weighing the Options – Making Choices” we investigate the positive possibilities and the challenges of the digital world. Issues such as online-sexting, harassment, and cyberbulling must be confronted and discussed. On the other side, teens must also learn about the fantastic opportunities for collaboration, social activism, creative expression, and entrepreneurship that the Internet allows. Simply put, students need more opportunities to address these options throughout the school curriculum.

The final two modules are specifically for parents and teachers. “Raising Children in the Digital Age – Any Century Parenting” and “What About Young Adolescents” offer advice about digital parenting that dispels the myth that a whole new set of parenting skills are needed in the digital age. Also, specific age-appropriate guidelines for families and educators of middle schoolers is contrasted with those for high schoolers.

Yes, it is time for families and educators to be on the same digital page, and we think these are the kinds of topics they need to know about as they teach their teens to be safe, responsible, respectful, and ethical both on and off-line.

The Digital Learning Series was written by Ed Brazee, Jill Spencer, and Chris Toy, who also blog at Digital Citizenship 4 All. For more information contact Ed Brazee at, Jill Spencer at, or Chris Toy at

Ed Brazee is professor emeritus of education at the University of Maine where he taught for 25 years. He now develops online resources for parents, teachers, and students around digital citizenship issues and student technology teams. This year he is teaching 8th grade.

Jill Spencer is a former middle school teacher, now an international consultant, author, and literacy coach. She works with schools and educators on all aspects of literacy, instructional practices, and learning and technology.

Chris Toy is a former middle school principal from Freeport, Maine and an independent educational consultant working with schools around the world to effectively integrate 21st century skills and resources in teaching, learning, and school leadership.

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