Exploring digital citizenship as a form of literacy

7th graders learn video as reflection tool

digital citizenship and students onlineWhen I sat down to work with my students on digital citizenship and literacy, I wanted to do something different. These are 7th graders coming from lots of different schools, different levels of understanding, different exposure to the concepts of digital citizenship and I was trying to think of some way to have them understand digital citizenship as something more than no online bullying and no plagiarism. They’ve heard that before.

I wanted to really get them to see how digital citizenship was part of their everyday lives – now – and to make them want to delve into it.

Where We Started From

What I decided to do was to give them an overview of the 9 aspects of digital citizenship:

  • Digital access
  • Digital commerce
  • Digital communication
  • Digital literacy
  • Digital etiquette
  • Digital law
  • Digital rights & responsibilities
  • Digital health & wellness
  • Digital security

Along with a tenth and very important aspect: the history of the internet.

Students have no idea where the internet came from, the key players or historical events that caused it or how any of it relates to the future of their world. It’s just always been there for them. So I feel it has become an important aspect of digital citizenship.

I also expanded digital commerce to commerce and cultural values. More on that, later.

The students and I watched some videos about those different aspects. Some we watched in class; some were watched at home on their ChromeBooks. We discussed each area and discussed how that video communicated its ideas.

The Assignment:

From there, the assignment was to create a PSA on one of the 10 aspects of digital citizenship, their choice. They got to dig into what they were interested in.

Learning about PSAs

We spent some time learning about what PSAs are and what they’re composed of, and boiled our inquiries down into two key areas:

What is a target audience?

We learned about customizing a message for a specific audience. They had to define their target audience: elementary school students, middle school students or the community at large. What does that audience need to hear or see in order to understand the message?

What are some methods to connect with your target audience?

We spent some time refining what the message of each PSA would be. Students had to figure out the best way to convey the message to their specific audience within the video.

Planning the PSA

I broke the students into groups, and from there the groups collaborated on deciding which of the 10 aspects of digital citizenship to work on. From there, we jumped into planning our videos.


We started with storyboards; actual paper storyboards. With middle schoolers it’s a lot easier for them to physically draw while they’re thinking, rather than using a specific technology tool.

Now that they’ve done it once, they could likely go to digital drawing, but we went with paper for this first round. And I made it clear to them that these should be very rough drafts — in fact I might not be able to read it but as long as they could, we were all good. It was really important for students to realize they would not be judged for their drawings.

Next we started fleshing out the storyboards. For that we used spreadsheets. They were provided a spreadsheet template with the columns of information to address for detailing the dialogue, what equipment they would need, what the lighting would look like, costumes, the background, the sound — they’d never done video before, so the spreadsheet was a great tool for breaking down the large video production process into manageable chunks. They really had to get into the details of what they wanted to do.

Interestingly, at the time, most students hated this step, BUT… in their reflections afterwards they said “I hated it at the time, but when it came time to make my video I realized how important it was.”


The ideas were really different from group to group. There were a couple of groups who wanted to do the history of the internet, because they found it really intriguing and they didn’t know anything about it. And of course that meant research. Figuring out what happened, finding and sourcing appropriate images and video clips, and letting the research drive the narration.

Video Production and Editing

From there, we went to actual video editing. We used WeVideo, which we really found invaluable. There was one group who made these little puppets, and their film was for elementary school students. They wrote a script, and they had a lot of dialogue in their script, but they also had to determine who was going to move which puppet in which direction at what time, and so on. Other groups wrote stories.

One group were doing “Your Digital Footprint”, and the story they made up involved Batman, who was looking to hire a new sidekick and in doing so, was reviewing all the digital footprints of these various superheroes who’d applied for the position. I was surprised at how engaged and involved these students all got in the project. And how the project allowed them to engage more deeply with each other on a respectful social level.

The Results

I was just stunned by what they produced.

In the information that I found about the nine aspects of digital citizenship, they only focus on Commerce. I added Cultural Values, because the notion of Commerce, for middle schoolers, is a little over their head — I mean, they know you can buy things on Amazon — but that’s not necessarily as valuable to their current lives as understanding, for instance, how the media changes how we view ourselves. And they’re always on media of some sort. Particularly for girls, with body image, but more and more for boys too. They see images of what they think they’re supposed to be — “Oh, I’m supposed to wear my pants down around my hips? I’m not cool if I don’t wear Nikes?”

So being literate about how Commerce and Cultural Values are shaped by our digital world is really important. They turned out to be much more interested in Cultural Values rather than Commerce anyway.

What they did for this video was actually go out and interview fellow students, and take pictures of them, and ask them, “If you could be perfect, what would you want to change about yourself?”

And based on the students’ responses, we went into Photoshop and tried to produce that perfect image they requested. They said if they’d had more time, they’d liked to have incorporated the actual interviews with the students into the video, but this is still an amazing first piece. And these are 7th graders.


In another one, students used themselves in a video examining unrealistic standards of beauty online, and they insisted on shooting bloopers at the end, and adding the bloopers to their finished video. I think it’s also powerful that they list where they found all those images, and you see they’re all from women’s magazines and MTV, and tying that back to our earlier discussion on target audiences.

The bloopers in and of themselves demonstrate a level of comfort and confidence that you don’t see in a lot of 7th grade girls.


We always do reflections. We always reflect on the work we’ve done. And usually it’s written. Usually I give them a number of questions to consider in their reflections, to help them structure their thinking. And they complain bitterly about having to write. So part of what I always say is, “We’re learning tools for expressing our learning and our ideas.” Having just learned WeVideo and how to create this certain type of video,

We’re going to do a reflection, but as a video.

And they didn’t know what I meant.

So I said,

“You’ve got the Chromebook, there’s a camera in your Chromebook, and we’ve learned to use WeVideo to film either what’s happening on our screen or what’s on the camera. Take your Chromebook to a quiet place, and after having looked at the questions, think about what you want to say, maybe practice a couple times, and then I want you to video yourself telling me how you felt about the project. What you liked about it, what you didn’t like, what you thought you might’ve done better.

You can make it as simple as turning on the camera and just talking, you can show me your editing skills by showing me how you did something or holding something up in front of the camera. Whatever you can think of in terms of communicating your ideas and your thoughts about the project.”

Those were the whole instructions.

And what I got was a mixture:

In some, a student sat down and filmed themselves reading and responding to the question, unrehearsed.

Some were screencasts where a student showcased the editing skills they’d learned in WeVideo.

Some showed the question as part of the video, which they narrated and responded to.
some chose carefully where they filmed (quiet with nothing in the background, a carefully chosen camera angle and lighting); others sat where ever it was convenient. One student filmed herself in a closet to make sure it was quiet.

There was a high degree of students really thinking about how to present their reflection material. Thinking about not just what their message on reflection was, but me as their target audience, and how best to express their reflection message in a way that they felt would connect with me.

The process of how the student feels, this meta level of what’s the best way to visually convey this information is a really high level of communication. We talk about that throughout the digital citizenship unit, and even earlier, when we’re doing our Google Docs presentation, “This Is Me”.

That was part of their PLPs and they were trying to come up with information on who they were and what they were about. So that’s what we did here as well in Google Presentation.

All along, all semester, we’ve been talking about the idea: What’s the best way to communicate your idea? What is it you want to say? Who are you speaking to? What might be the best way for them to really understand or experience your message?

As always, there’s a handful of students who do the least amount of work possible, and a handful of students who do things I couldn’t even have imagined.

But as far as transferable skills go, well, what could be more useful, more transferable than knowing how to communicate your message?

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