Making Digital Citizenship a PTA Priority

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Communications Commission

How do we help families use technology responsibly for learning, creating, and participating in the larger community? That is the central question that educators, parents, and students are asked to think about during Digital Citizenship Week, which takes place from October 18-22 this year. 

Why is Digital Citizenship important?

We live in a digital age and so do our kids. Parents share both positive attitudes about technology and a lot of concerns as well, according to a 2016 national survey conducted by Common Sense Media. This video captures that ambivalence and helps underscore the valuable contribution PTAs can make by 

Digital Citizenship Topics to Share with Families

The focused attention to this issue only lasts a week, but your PTA and school can address Digital Citizenship any time. You can easily share specific tips and ideas with families throughout the school year, thanks to Common Sense Education. They have created a wealth of resources for families that are organized based on student grade levels, can be printed out, and are meant to be shared. You can use them as hand-outs at a meeting or provide them (with credit to Common Sense Education) in newsletters and social media. These were created to align with a classroom curriculum, but two of the categories are ideal for PTAs to share, independent of what your school is doing. 

SEL [Social-Emotional Learning] in Digital Life Family Conversations – available in both English and Spanish, these are brief ideas for family conversations related to social-emotional learning (SEL) and technology. They’re grouped into grade spans (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) and are framed around the predominant themes used in educators’ growing interest and instruction around social-emotional learning:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Responsible decision making
  • Relationship skills 
  • Social awareness

Family Tips – available in multiple languages (including English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Russian, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese), these printer friendly pages are made for sharing. Versions for grades K-5 and 6-12 provide parenting tips related to the following topics:

  • Media Balance & Well-Being  
  • Privacy & Security 
  • Digital Footprint & Identity  
  • Relationships & Communication  
  • Cyberbullying, Digital Drama, & Hate Speech  
  • News & Media Literacy  

PTA and School Leaders Can Work Together

Creating a Digital Citizenship Campaign that is thoroughly planned and done in coordination with your school and/or school district is a bigger undertaking, but one that you may want to consider. As a PTA leader, you’ll do well to understand the needs and interests of both the families and educators at your school to decide whether a campaign around digital citizenship makes sense, what topics you might want to cover, and if this is an independent PTA activity or a school wide interest.

Plentiful resources are available, including an implementation guide that will walk you and your education leaders through how to make the campaign a success. Common Sense Education has also developed a toolkit that includes articles, videos, hand-outs, and ready-made presentations covering a range of Digital Citizenship topics. 

Let us know how your PTA or school is sharing ideas about Digital Citizenship by sending a link or short note to communications@capta.org.

Futureproof: A Book About Your Kids’ Futures (and Yours)

By California State PTA Family Engagement and Communication Commission

 

Futureproof, written by technology writer Kevin Roose, offers new perspectives and interesting food for thought on matters that shape the relationship between families and schools today. The book suggests “nine rules for humans in the age of automation.”  It’s an important topic if you want to ensure that your children’s education stays relevant in future job markets while also supporting their social and emotional health. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly integrated into every aspect of our lives, at work and at home, how can we protect people from being replaced by automation and preserve our humanity?

Among the author’s more interesting insights is that rather than try to compete with computers in terms of productivity and efficiency – where the computers have the upper hand, so to speak – we should focus on developing those human skills and attributes where we do have the advantage: our creativity, our ability to make sense out of novel and chaotic situations, and our capacity to understand and personally relate to the feelings of other humans. Our future success depends on being able to do the things that the computer can’t do – things that highlight the efforts and contributions made by other people (examples include products or services described as artisanal, concierge, personal, or hand-crafted).  

PTA has a role to play

Roose recommends we “build big nets and small webs.”  The term big nets refers to the kinds of social safety programs established to protect children, youth, and families in times of crisis (a common focus for PTA advocacy efforts). PTAs themselves can be thought of as small webs since our local associations are frequently on the front lines finding creative ways to help families when they find themselves in need or distress, as recently demonstrated during the pandemic. For many members of our school communities, PTA activities and support for family engagement offered a means of resilience, encouragement, aid, and friendship during difficult times.

Recent news stories about the lack of accountability among social media companies and the implications of the content they relentlessly provide may be motivating you to reexamine technology use in your own households.  It could be time for you as PTA leaders to consider the growing influence of the digital world more broadly and decide how that should influence PTA strategies for family engagement related to the education offered in your local schools. 

Implications for what schools teach

Roose notes that while “many ideas have been proposed and tested for bringing our educational system into the twenty-first century,” most have dealt primarily with how we teach, rather than what we should teach.  His recommendations for practical skills that maximize the advantages of people over machines include:

  • Attention Guarding – Finding ways to maintain our focus despite a persistent onslaught of external forces trying to distract us.  This isn’t simply a matter of maintaining productivity but is important in our ability to exercise control over where we choose to direct our attention.
  • Room Reading – It takes emotional intelligence to be able to “read a room” – a skill that is valuable in the workplace.  Roose suggests that women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ people may be particularly adept at this as it has long been an essential skill for their success in the dominant culture. 
  • Resting – A surprising skill to cultivate is the ability to allow yourself sufficient rest to help prevent burnout and exhaustion, and to reconnect with our human selves.  Roose suggests, “In the automated future, as more of our contributions come from big breakthroughs, inspired ideas, and emotional aptitude, being well-rested is going to become even more critical.”
  • Digital Discernment – As people increasingly get their news and information from social media networks, it becomes ever more important to engage critical thinking skills to distinguish truth from fiction and to differentiate between credible sources and sponsored content.  “…It’s going to get even harder in the coming years with the rise of algorithmically generated text, realistic conversational AI, and synthetic video (‘deepfakes’) produced with the help of machine learning,” Roose cautions.
  • Analog Ethics – In an age when our value will come from our ability to relate to other people, Roose asserts that treating people well, acting ethically, and behaving in prosocial ways will remain essential to lifelong success. Schools that offer social-emotional learning programs to children are more likely to produce well-socialized, responsible adults able to cope with change.
  • Consequentialism – Organizations that create or use AI systems need to anticipate the ways these products can be misused, exploited, or gamed. Consequentialist thinking can be useful both in spotting flaws in technological systems before they cause catastrophic problems and, in other areas such as medicine, law enforcement, and human rights, being alert to where significant opportunities for error exist. Roose recommends incorporating consequentialist thinking as a standard part of STEM curriculum.

In the book’s final pages, Roose urges readers to step into the broader conversation, to “learn the details of the power structures that are shaping technological adaptation and bend those structures toward a better, fairer future.”  

This is certainly an opportunity for family and PTA engagement – to use our collective influence to help shape education, public policy, and the technological landscape to benefit children, youth, and families.