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Brainwriting to explore digital citizenship

November 22, 2011

This past Friday, the high school and junior high faculty members who responsible for helping their colleagues better integrate technology into their classes, got together to try to develop a common definition of digital citizenship as the first step in creating a digital citizenship curriculum for students and faculty.

As a big believer in learning by doing, I’m glad we did this with a novel exercise that helped show off the power connected learning and digital tools—Brainwriting.

Here’s how it works:

  1. In google docs, create a template document with a writing prompt, and then place that document inside that collection. For us, the prompt was “Describe how to serve, lead and grow in a community.”
  2. Share the document with your class or colleagues, and ask each person to create his/her own copy of the template, and rename it with his/her last name.
  3. Have each person write for 3 minutes on the prompt on their copy of the template.
  4. After three minutes, ask each person to switch to the next document in the list, read what is written and then add to that document in the voice of the original author

Once you’ve got 3-4 rounds with this, you’ll be pretty amazed by how the entire group has created a collection documents that present a range of viewpoints and yet share many common threads. You can then ask participants to take a few moments to read a number of the responses and then write down big ideas on individual post-its, and place them on a whiteboard. Then, have the group organize the post-its, and suddenly, you’ve got a great summary of the biggest ideas of group, how widely held they are (from the number of post-its that show similar thoughts) and also the detailed writing that produced these big ideas.

I could see this technique being useful in many classes, and not just English. It might be an easy way to get students to write up the big ideas from a lab, or develop a summary of a unit.

In case you’re interested, here’s the response I started and was built upon by a few of my colleagues:

We serve lead and grow by sharing. Sharing ideas, sharing feedback, sharing experiences, sharing feelings. This sharing creates connections, increases understanding and allows each of us to accomplish more than we ever could have imagined as individuals.

As I have explored this world, I have found more and more value in sharing my thinking and ideas earlier and earlier in the process. The world is a very forgiving place, and I don’t need to wait until I’ve got the perfect phrase, work of art, or idea to add to the discussion. If I am courageous enough to share my ideas and thoughts from the very beginning, others can help me to shape and refine those ideas into something much more powerful and flexible than if I had simply kept everything to myself until I felt I was “finished.”

So to me, the question of teaching digital citizenship is: how do we teach others to share responsibly.

We also need to teach children and adults the proper meaning of criticism. How we give and accept criticism largely affects our willingness to engage in shared learning.

We often think of creating in two stages: rough draft and final draft. The assumption is that the work is private until it is determined to be a “rough draft” or a “final draft.” What if we allowed others to contribute THROUGHOUT the drafting process. How much more rich would our roughest of rough drafts be for the feedback we received!

Some of our students in Writing Workshop Environmental writing are doing their final project on the fact that people don’t know how to argue/disagree/critique properly. So many times they have seen examples of politicans, parents, and commenters on blogs/news stories/etc demonstrate themselves incapble of civil discourse. I think the digital world makes this weakness more evident because the record of such inept arguing is made permanent through writing. In typical arguments, the words are air, that stick only with the person who hears them. I have been so gratified that our students have a) noticed that people don’t know how to argue well; b) chose to create a documentary of this that teaches the proper way to disagree/have civil discourse. This is an essential skill as well.

If you’ve got any thoughts on how to teach digital citizenship to both faculty and students, I’d love to hear those as well.


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