The ‘lived curriculum,’ Part 2: What that looks like

Part 1 looked at citizenship as a disposition and practice in digital environments, not an academic subject to be taught. Here, a little more about what that looks like in digital spaces used in classrooms – from the viewpoint of an educator who has worked with teachers and students in them for over a decade….

Here’s what digital citizenship practice looks like in Quest Atlantis, an educational digital environment in which Bronwyn Stuckey has worked with students and teachers for over a decade. In Quest Atlantis, which was developed at Indiana University and is now based at Arizona State University, students aged 9-15 create their own avatars and travel to “places” in the virtual world to participate in lessons called “quests.” The Wikipedia page about QA calls this “transformational play comprising both online and offline learning activities” that have “a storyline inspiring a disposition towards social action.”

[This kind of learning isn’t what’s often referred to as “gamification,” which, in a way, tricks students into caring about the subject. Rather, it’s an environment in which children can “become” – assume the role of – “scientists, doctors, reporters and mathematicians” who understand the content so they can achieve the goal of a particular quest.]

Support for teachers

Teachers are trained not only in the content but also in how to support the students, their learning process and their sense of community before they take their students into the digital world. The Quest Atlantis service emails teachers transcripts of students’ in-world communication and behavior, both good and bad, Stuckey writes.

“We do this so that [when negative behavior turns up] teachers can take up each of those teachable moments and hold dialog, counsel learners and open up these issues. Within the QA online community students are constantly surrounded by trusted adults (other teachers, not necessarily their own) who are not there to police student behavior but as co-learners and to provide support should students seek it. These teachers are asked to model the positive engagement and practices that they want their students to engage in,” she says, adding that schools and districts providing instruction in other digital environments, such as Minecraft and Open Sim, are taking similar approaches.

Interestingly, “none of the communities that I have engaged in have had a set of rigorous do’s and don’ts. What they do have is a community-designed charter or a set of positive statements of the behaviors that are supported and admired [by all participants in] the community.”

An environment that supports self-regulation

So here’s what happens: “We have seen that children quickly become very adept at moderating their own behaviors and community.” Students are active participants and stakeholders in the well-being of the community as well as learning outcomes. So, just as in families and schools in the offline world which develop positive, ethical cultures or value systems, students in strong digital communities “readily say ‘we don’t behave like that in here’ to peers acting out,” Stuckey writes. They’re learning social literacy – for example, they start to be able to tell when an interaction “might be heading in a negative direction well before it gets there and seize opportunities to support each other in being more positive and community spirited.” That’s social-emotional learning without a curriculum, in context. SEL, not just citizenship, needs to be modeled, learned and practiced in digital environments too.

“Students want to level up to greater and greater responsibility,” Stuckey continues. [She’s writing about citizenship, but this is SEL and “online safety” too. Can you see that? Online safety is, for the most part, emotional and psychological safety. I flesh out what I mean by that and explain the properties of safety in digital environments and a digital age here.]

21st-century leadership training

“Who would have thought that the most attractive reward for lots of hard work in the community could be responsibility, leadership and greater accountability? But kids do crave this! They want ownership and opportunities to show they can shine at being good human beings. And every time I have trusted in students to do so they have spectacularly exceeded my expectations. Even more than that, they have things they want to say on the matter.” Communities like this “afford students ownership of citizenship issues.”

This is not just digital citizenship. It’s “citizenship in all the places where it is possible to be lived out,” Stuckey writes. “Learning to be a good human being starts when you are born and is the ultimate lived curriculum!”

So taken to its logical conclusion, digital citizenship is no more an academic subject than citizenship is. I believe that – like “Internet safety education,” only newer – it’s a placeholder. Schools will continue to “teach” digital citizenship as a subject until digital environments become as commonplace in classrooms as pencils and notebooks. Then the skills of digital, media and social literacy will be taught throughout the curriculum in their own right (not thrown under a heading called “digital citizenship”); and citizenship will be modeled, learned and practiced both online and offline at all grade levels throughout the school day.

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