As in many states, students in Illinois are required to receive
a certain number of hours of instruction each year dedicated
to Internet Safety. While the idea is noble, the parameters are
sketchy. Some schools have an “Internet Safety Day” or some such
“special occasion” but too often these “occasions” serve no purpose other than compliance
with the requirement and very little learning occurs.
Community High School District 99 decided to challenge the idea that
Internet Safety just refers to “Cyberbullying,” and instead focused on “Digital
Citizenship.” This involved creating a program that would be meaningful to
students and help make a real difference.
The program became the Digital Citizenship Project, where students learn
about cyberbullying awareness and prevention as well as strategies to protect
themselves if they are victimized. The Digital Citizenship Project partners high
schools and middle schools across the country; the older students mentor and
guide the younger students on anti-bullying best practices.
To begin the project, the school used social media outlets like Twitter
to engage educators across the nation, specifically targeting middle school
teachers whose students might be interested in having a “cyber mentor.” The
school received enthusiastic responses and, to date, nearly 20 elementary and
middle school teachers now participate in the Digital Citizenship Project.
How It Works
The Digital Citizenship Project was first deployed in the Spring of 2011.
The main topics selected were Netiquette, Digital Citizenship, Cybercrime
Prevention, and Managing Digital Tattoo (Footprint). In addition to being
embedded in existing classes, it was decided that all curricula would be projectbased,
with a focus on creating for an authentic audience.
For a Personal Safety unit, high school sophomore health students research
the causes and ramifications of cyberbullying and pose essential questions.
Using “literature circles,” students read and discuss cases taken from “Teen
Cyberbullying Investigated” (Jacobs, 2011). The award-winning health
department from Downers Grove South, including Debbie Bruns, Vince
Garramone, Lauren Hoel, and Jon Stapleton, would be the primary catalysts
for spearheading this project.
Armed with this new understanding, students then post letters on blogs
intended for middle school students, including personal anecdotes and
suggestions for cyberbullying prevention and protection. Blogs are sent to
participating middle school teachers and students. Middle school students read
2-4 posts and respond by commenting and asking further questions. Serving
as “cyber mentors,” the sophomore students continue the conversation,
displaying good Digital Citizenship to their “proteges.”
There are now more than 1,000 students participating nationwide in the
Digital Citizenship Project. There are numerous examples of students sharing
incidents that either happened to them or, in some cases, when the students
themselves have been the bullies. The responses of the middle school students
are jaw-dropping. They show empathy, are willing to open up themselves, ask
questions, and are truly interested in what the high school students have to
say. The “final exam” is how the high school students respond to the younger
students. In other words, are they being “good digital citizens”?
Why It Matters
This project matters for two reasons. First, instead of merely completing
a study guide or worksheet, students create a document intended for an
authentic audience and purpose. In addition to learning cyberbullying
protection, students can figuratively look in the mirror and ask themselves,
“Am I behaving responsibly?” The high school mentors guide their protégés,
pose and answer questions, and engage
in authentic discourse with those who
genuinely want to know more. Second,
both groups of students are assessed, not
only on their knowledge of the topics, but
also on their practice of the behaviors.
The first benefit for the high school
students was the amount of voluntary
revision that was done. High school
students wrote and revised more
when they knew their audience was
younger students. Another benefit was
the knowledge gained about the legal
ramifications of cyberbullying. High
school students scored significantly
higher on assessments measuring
knowledge about the legal consequences
of cyberbullying after participating in the
There were also numerous benefits for the younger students. Middle school
teachers reported that their students were impressed that high school students
cared enough to write to them. As a result, they were more prone to
continue discussions in a safe, familiar environment, knowing they could
trust their mentors. In at least one case, middle school administrators are
reporting a decrease in known incidents of cyberbullying after students
participate in this project.
Next year, the Digital Citizenship Project will be bigger than ever. Middle
school students from Europe and Africa will be participating to give the project
a true “global” perspective. If you are interested in participating, please
Jon Orech is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for
Downers Grove South High School, IL. He is also a regular
presenter at Tech Forums and blogs at the Digital Learning
Sample Digital Citizenship Exchange
In this sample mentoring exchange, high
school student Matt shares information about
cyberbullying. Notice how Matt handles the
exchange with two other middle school kids
with empathy, but also encourages taking the
Middle school student 1, “Alex”: One time i
made this girl very mad by sending her a text
message. Then she went to show the text to
her boy friend and the guy came to chew my
butt out. I said my sorry and he said that is not
sorry. So the guy made the girl come and talk
to me and she said it better not happen again
or i will have my boyfriend come and beat you
up. I said ok i’m sorry i won’t do it again.
Middle School student 2, “Katy”: Wow I can’t
believe you did that. I know I’m not making it
any better but as a girl i feel strongly about
this stuff. I personly would make you feel
guilty, then ignor you, then beat you. (that
was a joke) But in the end (like all guys) you
FINALLY came out of stupidity. I don’t have a
facebook or phone. My moms smart. So I’m
noy bullied that much. It’s mostly verbal.
High School Student, “Matt”: Thank you for
sharing your story, Alex. Also, thank you for apologizing
to the girl for cyberbullying her. While
the fact that you did cyberbully her is not good
at all, at least you have mended it a bit by apologizing
to her and promising not to do it again.
However, the fact that they had threatened to
hurt you is also a form of bullying, and they were
also in the wrong. But if all is said and done, walk
away and move on. Don’t bother them anymore
and you won’t have any problems.
Katy, I understand your strong opposition to
cyberbullying and certainly agree with the
belief, but the fact that you’re saying things
like how you would make him feel bad and
guilty about doing it, then saying how he is
stupid (along with all other males, according
to you), in essence, is a form of cyberbullying.
I appreciate your feedback but must ask you
to keep from saying things like that.
The CyberBully Hotline from SchoolReach has
announced the CyberBully Hotline grant program. This
newly created program for K-12 schools and districts
will award $100,000 in grants to support the implementation
of an anonymous bullying reporting solution
to help schools reduce and prevent bullying and cyber
Entries for the CyberBully Hotline grant must come
from districts or schools that have a high (31-50 percent)
or very high (50 percent+) Free and Reduced
Where to find grant applications: www.cyberbullyhotline.com/grant-program.html
Deadline: October 31, 2012.
New York Governor
In a recent Huffington Post, Joseph O’Leary reports that
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed
a measure, effective July 1, 2013, to crack down on
cyberbullying. The law puts in place a number of steps
designed to help prevent cyberbullying, both inside
and outside of schools.
O’Leary reports that a school employee who witnesses
or learns of online harassmentmust notify the school’s
administration within one school day, and must file a
written report within another two days.
The law also requires that teachers be
trained in identifying and mitigating bullying
According to the Cyberbullying Research
Center (www.cyberbullying.us), every state
except Montana has a law in place to prevent
bullying. Forty-two states have laws
that include electronic harassment, and
laws in 14 states include cyberbullying.