2016-11-18 / Schools

District recognized for ‘digital citizenship’

Students, staff learn about using technology safely
By Michael Aushenker

Simi Valley Unified School District has earned its digital wings, according to an organization specializing in online readiness.

Last week, Common Sense Education, a national nonprofit founded in 2010 and dedicated to assisting kids in the virtual world, recognized SVUSD for its “digital citizenship.”

“We’re honored to be recognized as a Common Sense Digital Citizenship certified school,” Superintendent Jason Peplinski said. “By preparing our students to use technology safely and responsibly, we are providing them unlimited opportunities to maximize and personalize their learning.”

To earn the certification, every SVUSD school participated in digital media training for staff and students.

Lessons taught students to counter such online toxins as cyberbullying, while also teaching them how to ensure security and privacy — for example, explaining how a digital footprint left behind on the internet could be viewed by college admissions personnel and employers far into the future — and educating them about creative credit and copyright.

Jason Messinger, SVUSD’s coordinator of educational technology, handled the district’s Common Sense rollout in August.

Two years ago, the district attempted to apply Caliqity, a Ventura County-based program with similar goals, but that platform proved shoddy, Messinger said.

“The resources weren’t well-vetted and researched,” he said. “There’s a big need to bring a better digital citizenship program into our system.”

After San Francisco-based Common Sense Education (a derivative of Common Sense Media) made a May 2015 presentation to SVUSD’s technology committee, the 60-person group — including a subgroup of 10 decision-makers — decided to adopt the program, which offers lessons and technological guidelines.

According to Common Sense, its resources are used in over 90,000 classrooms nationwide.

Of the district’s 714 full-time teachers, about 700 were trained to teach Common Sense lessons. In one activity, first-graders were given multiple-choice questions covering how to identify age-appropriate websites.

About 400 of SVUSD’s teachers fulfilled the requirements to become Common Sense Certified Educators. To become certified, a teacher had to teach at least three hours and 45 minutes (five lessons) worth of digital citizenship coursework to a single class; or two hours and 15 minutes (three lessons) worth to at least two groups of students.

To make Common Sense lesson plans more palatable for educators using them, Messinger said, he created a Google site in-house with all of the lessons organized by grade level, along with links to Common Sense resources.

After SVUSD completed the coursework, Common Sense notified the district Nov. 2 that it had passed muster. Digital certification is for 2016-17 only. The district must reapply every school year to maintain this status.

This year’s Common Sense implementation cost the district nothing. But for the 2017-18 school year, SVUSD is considering installing Nearpod, a Chromebook-compatible presentation tool for which Common Sense has adapted its content.

The benefit of Nearpod is that when it is used within a classroom, the teacher can direct lessons from his or her laptop, while the material appears on every student’s Chromebook screen, Messinger said.

“It also reduces the amount of time that a teacher may need to plan for a lesson,” he said.

Nearpod is currently being tested in a pilot program at Royal High School.

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