Module 7: Playing with Digital Citizenship

My introductory activity to educate administrators, teachers and parents about digital citizenship is a classroom within which three separate stations are set up. The first station is a juggling training station complete with blue, green and red balls for juggling labelled with the words Respect, Educate/Communicate, and Protect, respectively (see this link for the digital citizenship reasoning behind this choice). This station includes both a training video (courtesy of YouTube) and a guest juggling trainer.

The second station is an art center with a wide variety of drawing, painting and crafting materials allowing for the development of any number of artistic creations. Also located at the station is a set of cards with instructions such as “Create an artistic rendering of how you think online bullying feels” or “Build a 3 dimensional sculpture that depicts your idea of what digital commerce means.” The creators will pick one of these cards to guide the direction of what they will create.

The third station is a cooperative Lego binary building activity. Here pairs of builders work together to create a Lego project by first picking a card from a deck to find out what needs to be built. The cards contain words which could be associated with digital citizenship such as creative commons, attribution, noncommercial, share-alike, boundary, online purchase, lock, data, virus protection, ergonomic, privacy, free speech, etc. The pair then creates and builds with Lego blocks a representation or abstraction of their selected word.

Groups rotate through the three stations taking a turn at each. After the introductory period has ended, group members take turns demonstrating their newly acquired juggling skills, showing off and discussing their artistic creations, and explaining how their Lego models are representative of their selected words.

Analysis

Play is where creativity starts and limitations end. The human creative drive first expresses itself in our play, and the limitations of “the real world” fall away when we play. And, in a circular pattern, it is the limitlessness of play that allows our creativity to reach even greater heights and for the truly N.E.W. to emerge.

The three part introductory activity I have developed is playful in the freedom it affords participants to create their own physical manifestations of the somewhat ephemeral concepts of digital citizenship. From the physical act of literally learning to juggle “respect, education/communication and protection,” to the abstraction of an emotion into a drawing, painting or sculpture, to the construction of a Lego model of an abstract (or not) idea, my introduction uses the tools children play with, their toys as it were, to start adults down the path toward a deeper understanding of what we mean when we use the words digital citizenship. I am asking the participants, again quite literally, to play with the concepts of digital citizenship. At the same time, my introductory activity is meaningful in that it pushes participants to explore the concepts of digital citizenship either more deeply or, at the very least, in a manner they might not otherwise choose. In either case, the intention is to alter their perception of the topic, and in so doing, hopefully promote greater insight.

After creating the three dimensional model of the main concepts of digital citizenship, I was struck by the three-ness of it. This week, as I thought about the Play assignment, I kept coming back to playing with three, and it was not long before juggling three balls came to mind. I like the physical, embodied nature of learning to juggle. Plus, the gut feeling of stress that learning a new physical skill brings with it seems like a perfect opportunity for a call-back later in a lesson when we discuss tuning-in to our emotions while navigating the social world online. Likewise, the idea of practicing something in front of others carries with it an element of risk of embarrassment, another emotion that can be easily tied to online social interaction.

The art center seems like a perfectly wonderful way to get adults to abstract their ideas while letting their creativity flow. Plus, by situating the art center not too far away from the Lego building area, I am interested to see if any cooperative creating spills over from the “builders” to the “artists.” That is, will any groups form at the art center to create collaborative constructions, paintings or drawings?

Lastly, I have been having a lot of fun playing with Lego Mindstorms robotics kits lately with an after school group, and I felt like I needed to include Legos in any sort of play scenario that I developed. Their snap-together fit, their wonderful color palette and their wide appeal make them an excellent choice for rapid prototyping nearly anything. In a way, they give a break to those who want to construct but may lack the wherewithal to do so with simpler materials. And they are just so darn much fun to play with! Even adults who might otherwise balk at building something from scratch (like at the art center) can snap together some Legos and create cool stuff.

All three activities are hands-on, embodied learning in a playful setting. I specifically chose them because I believe these are three characteristics which are sorely lacking from too many lessons being taught today. My hope is that by modeling this kind of teaching with other teachers I might inspire and encourage them to adopt similar characteristics in their own classroom practice.

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