The Power of Two

A Shared Reflection from Gail Desler & Natalie Bernasconi

Digital IDGood things are bound to happen when National Writing Project teachers have an opportunity to team up and attend a 2-week technology institute (as part of a year-long program), in a state-of-the-art setting, with all expenses paid. The two of us were already sure that would be the case when last summer the two of us headed to the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College in beautiful Los Gatos, California, to participate in the MERIT (Making Education Relevant and Interactive Through Technology) program. A year later, we stand back in awe of the profound impact the combination of Writing Project connections and the MERIT program have had on our individual and shared journeys across one school year – and into the next.

Over the past few years, we have connected at a number of NWP events, sparking great conversations, but never with enough time to transform talk into collaborative projects. The MERIT program would soon change that cycle. Two hundred miles apart and from different school districts (Elk Grove & Salinas) and different Writing Projects (A3WP and CCWP), we spent the 2011 three-day MLK weekend crafting our MERIT application. We decided that our focus would be on technology as a tool for our English language learners. We were a little fuzzy on what our actual project might look like. By the second week of the summer institute, much inspired by a daily dose of incredible speakers, hands-on demonstrations, and modeling of best practices, we noticed that our conversations (whole group, small group, and the two of us) so often hit on the need to help our students, sites, and districts transition from the rather limited topic of Internet safety to the broader and more timely topic of digital citizenship. From national and state legal mandates to moral imperatives, we began to delve into the question of what it means to be an upstanding (digital) citizen. On the second to last day of the institute, we stood before our MERIT mentors and colleagues and announced that we had a project – Digital ID – Citizenship in the 21st Century.

Initially we saw our roles in the Digital ID project as co-curators. We would cull through outstanding resources and research pieces from organizations such as Common Sense Media, Netsmartz, and Microsoft, gleaning gems that teachers could use the next day to ignite conversations with their students and school community and to jumpstart projects on digital citizenship issues. Thanks to the guidance provided by ISTE via Mike Ribble and his 9 elements of digital citizenship, we already had an initial platform of starting points. From the 9 elements, we synthesized our project into 4 elements or foci with the intent of transitioning digital citizenship from a topic often taught in isolation in a computer lab into a global conversation that could be seamlessly integrated within the core curriculum.

Our first focus – Stepping Up, a call to social action – is the driving force of the Digital ID project. We are committed to empowering students to find their voice as (digital) readers and writers and to “be the change.” As students step up and out onto the Internet, we also want to ensure that they understand the need to build and maintain a positive digital footprint, to respect intellectual property boundaries, and to protect their privacy.

Digital IDOur project also embraces the Common Core Writing Goals for State Standards for college readiness, which recognize the variety of 21st century digital skills our students need to master, such as becoming “adept at gathering information, evaluating sources, and citing material accurately,” including “analyzing the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats… and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.” Students are also expected to “actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening….They evaluate other points of view critically and constructively,” so that they can “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions… with diverse partners…building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly,” leading to the capacity to “produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.” For us, this composite represents the quintessential Digital Citizen.

When we cannot find resources readily available to support the project’s four foci and address teacher and administrator requests, we shift from co-curators to co-creators, making and posting resources to the wiki, such as:

Digital IDBut the major shift since going live with the Digital ID project in February (part of the National Digital Learning Day celebration) – and the trend we are most proud of – has been using our role as agents of change to support students to take the lead to “be the change.” From the PSA Challenge to interactive glossaries currently available in 4 languages – and counting, we are now supporting from the sidelines as our model builds upon the NWP tenet of “teachers teaching teachers” to an even more powerful model of students teaching students.

In March 2012,  we were one of three projects selected from the Silicon Valley Foundation’s ShiftEd Innovative Educators competition to advance to the 2012 Partners in Learning U.S. Forum at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, along with 100 other educators across the country.  As we prepare to head to Redmond, we continue to be inspired by the power of one (a thread that runs through the Digital ID Student-Created Content and Curriculum Collaborations pages) to bring about change. As co-curators/co-creators of this project, we are also profoundly moved and grateful for the power of two. The opportunity to build a collaborative project that is greater than the sum of its parts boosts confidence and commitment, fosters inquiry, and promotes innovation. 

In the months since we stood at the podium at MERIT, a “fuzzy idea” has evolved into a full-blown project that has been visited by over 1,000 people from across the US and 50+ countries worldwide. We are delighted that the Digital ID project is fostering student-centered international conversations, leading to new understandings and possibilities of what it means to be “fully engaged, contributing ‘Citizens’ of all the communities in which we find ourselves.”