More classrooms are opening their doors
to student discussion online through
online collaborative projects, online
courses, and blended learning. They are
doing this through public social media like
Facebook as well as private social media
tools like Edmodo, My Big Campus, and
Moodle. Whatever your school policy
is—whether completely open or using
the “walled garden” approach—there are
general rules to follow when promoting
meaningful online discussions. Here are
10 rules of thumb to get you started.
1. Keep discussions to Bloom’s higher level
topics, including creating,
evaluating, and synthesizing.
2. Use discussion as a formative
assessment for checking both
individual and group understanding.
This does not mean it always has to be
graded for accuracy, but more as a way
for the teacher to plan. These questions
may be lower on Bloom’s Scale to show
remembering and understanding.
3. A discussion can be graded,
although it may be best to grade for
participation. For example, the teacher
may post and then ask students to reply
to this post with a defined number
of sentences. Students could also be
evaluated on their comments on other
student posts. Be specific on the grading
4. A class discussion is not an emulation of casual social
media conversations. It is an academic forum. This forum
should have the following rules:
■ All students must use proper English grammar and
■ All students must use complete sentences.
■ All students must not use text lingo (e.g., LOL).
■ All references that have been copied and pasted
should be cited by name with a link to the source.
■ The conversation should stay on topic. No outside or
■ Thoughts and ideas should be concise and to the point
(i.e., do not ramble).
■ Keep statements specific and reasoned (i.e., avoid
■ Exercise proper digital citizenship (see below).
5. Students should practice proper digital citizenship.
These general rules are as follows:
■ All students will show respect and understanding for
the diversity of other participants.
■ All students will emphasize constructive, not critical,
peer critique (e.g., do not simply criticize but frame
comments as questions or suggestions, such as
beginning with “I wonder…”)
■ All comments should be academic in nature.
■ Do not use personal identifying information.
■ No plagiarizing. Always give the proper credit.
■ Be sensitive to the fact that your words stand alone
without the benefit of expression and tone found in
■ Understand that posts are permanent, and viewable
by all participants.
6. Vary the media used in discussions. Use documents,
PDF files, movies, music, sound files, Power Points,
Web site links, and images to promote the standards and
7. Keep on topic. Try to provide discussions that will
support the standards and 21st-century competencies
that you wish to emphasize and that will be assessed.
8. Use a rubric if providing a discussion for
understanding. Make sure your students use the
rubric when making any comments or replies.
Consider including the 21st-century competencies of
communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and
creativity. Do not try to include all of them. Break these
skills down to individual components, such as using
“divergent thinking” instead of “creativity.”
9. Be sure to model by practicing what is required while
also commenting on what students write.
10. Encourage students to create their own discussions
so they begin to own the process.
Michael Gorman oversees one-to-one laptop programs
and digital professional development for Southwest Allen
County Schools near Fort Wayne, Indiana. Read more at
Digital Citizenship Tips for Teens
For teens, Common Sense Media
offers five simple rules of digital
citizenship to help them create a
world they can be proud of—and
inspire others to do the same.
Think before you post or text. A
bad reputation could be just a
click away. Before you press the
“send” button, imagine the last
person in the world that you’d
want seeing what you post.
What goes around comes around.
If you want your privacy respected,
respect others’ privacy. Posting an
embarrassing photo or forwarding
a friend’s private text without asking can cause unintended hurt or damage to others.
Spread heart, not hurt. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online. Stand up for those
who are bullied or harassed, and let them know that you’re there for them.
Give and get credit. We’re all proud of what we create. Illegal downloading, digital cheating,
and cutting and pasting other people’s stuff may be easy, but that doesn’t make it
right. You have the responsibility to respect other people’s creative work—and the right to
have your own work respected.
Make this a world you want to live in. Spread the good stuff. Create, share, tag, comment,
and contribute to the online world in positive ways.
Read more tips on digital citizenship at www.commonsensemedia.org.
Integrating Digital Citizenship
in 1:1 Initiatives
The Victory Lakes Intermediate School in League City, TX, conducted a oneyear
pilot during the 2012-2013 school year to test the waters for a Fall 2013
district-wide 1:1 roll-out. Language Arts teacher Emily Auffarber was one of the
pioneers of this 1:1 pilot, and worked with her 8th grade students to create a
digital citizenship code of conduct.
She helped her students create
these guidelines by first
defining good digital citizenship.
“When we began
working with our team of
students to create a digital
honor code, we spent a good
amount of time talking about
how, no matter how “sci-fi” it
sounds, we live in two different
worlds right now,” says
Auffarber. “Kids have their
online persona and their
real-life persona. It is so
important to talk at length
about how these two people
need to be the same.”
Auffarber tells her students that “the absolute best rule of thumb is this: Would
you say this to the person’s face? Would the “real-life” you be proud of this
Auffarber reminds her students that today’s colleges are looking at both of
these personalities when considering candidates. Her middle school students
may not yet be thinking about college and careers, but she stressed to them
that they need to be aware that “the online persona they create will never go
Impressing Sports Recruiters
with a Winning Digital Profile
At Cedar Hill ISD in Texas, coaches know
the influence that a positive—or negative—
digital presence can have on recruitment
opportunities for students.
Defensive line coach Aaron Nowell said in
a recent article on WFFA News, “There are
guys who are losing scholarships for what
they’re posting. I would hate for that to
happen to one of my kids.”
That doesn’t mean social media is banned
at Cedar Hill. Instead, as part of their BYOD
initiative, they train students on good digital
citizenship with the goal of using the
resulting digital footprints to open doors
to college and careers.
“We teach students that their digital footprint
will be much more powerful than
any resume they can write,” says Cedar
Hill’s executive director of technology, Kyle
Berger has seen colleges become “social
media investigators,” increasingly relying
on digital data when deciding who gets
those letters of acceptance. He sees many
recruiters requesting to “friend” student
scholarship prospects. Once friends, the
recruiter has access to the student’s digital
history. These investigations go beyond
Facebook, and include other popular sites
like Twitter and Instagram.
Berger says student athletes can start to
build their digital profiles and use them to
their advantage with recruiters. Students
can tweet about just finishing that workout
or getting ready for the big game. They
can post about setting a new goal and
achieving it. He recommends their messages
extend to positive classroom goals
and experiences, too.
Berger also believes employers are increasingly
conducting digital background
checks on applicants before entrusting
them with jobs, so the same guidelines
used by athletes can be used by any student
to open doors to jobs and colleges.
“Your digital footprint is the new first
impression,” says Berger, “and it starts taking
shape sometimes for many as young as
age 5. Understanding how to manage your
online reputation or ‘digital footprint’ is
something that everyone needs to become
more aware of these days.”
Free Digital Literacy and
Google partnered with child safety experts at iKeepSafe, to develop free digital
literacy and citizenship lessons that incorporate some of the best advice and tips
that Google’s security team has to offer. The lessons are designed for students in
grades 6-8. To download a free copy visit the Good to Know page at www.google.com/goodtoknow/web/curriculum/