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Woodbury students learn impact of digital footprints

On Nov. 6, Woodbury High School juniors in Courtney Den Herder’s class learned about online privacy and cookies as part of the district’s new Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

In today’s society, with the abundance of technology, being a good citizen isn’t the same as it used to be.

“There’s a difference between your online self and your offline self,” said Woodbury High School Principal Sarah Sorenson-Wagner.

“There’s a grey area between what’s socially acceptable in real life and online,” WHS senior Austen Macalus said.

District 833 is taking steps to address what it means to be a good “digital citizen” this school year with its new Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum, which is “designed to empower students to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world,” according to the  district website.

The Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum is being incorporated into all District 833 schools, kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We know it’s a need, but in the past we haven’t had a structured method for delivering that content,” Sorenson-Wagner said. “It’s been more just incidental conversations.”

Digital-age common sense

Matthew Dorschner, the director of teaching and learning services, said the district decided to incorporate the digital citizenship curriculum into this school year because it’s increasingly important for students to understand the digital world.

“It’s important for students to understand the online footprint that each of them will have,” Dorschner said, “because the digital world is the world in which we live.”

Each grade level will receive a total of five lessons that will be delivered in differing ways.

Some of the topics covered through the curriculum include: Internet safety; digital footprint and reputation; privacy and security; self-image and identity; relationships and communication; information literacy; cyberbullying; and creative credit and copyright.

“I like how it scaffolds up through the older grade levels,” Sorenson-Wagner said.

Dorschner said the primary goal of the digital citizenship curriculum is to ensure that students feel safe at school.

Additionally, Dorschner said the digital citizenship curriculum will educate students on how to most effectively use technology.

“It’s about becoming safe and effective digital citizenship stewards and learners,” he said. “Becoming effective navigators of the digital world is imperative.” 

Citizenship in high school

Both WHS and East Ridge High School recently delivered their digital citizenship lessons and Sorenson-Wagner said she definitely sees the benefit.

However, Sorenson-Wagner said teachers are being stretched since many of the topics – sexting or cyberbullying – can oftentimes be uncomfortable for both students and staff.

“To be expected to stand in front of a class of 20 and talk about sexting is hard,” she said. “Teachers are being stretched to have intentional lessons and intentional conversations about difficult topics.

“It’s raised an awareness in our building that all staff can talk about these topics and we need to become comfortable having these conversations.”

Sorenson-Wagner said she believes that some of the most important lessons that students received related to just how to behave with technology.

“A lot of it is just responsible use of technology and etiquette,” she said.

WHS math teacher Courtney Den Herder and WHS English teacher Michael Moran both agree that teachers are learning right along with students because not only are they learning how to present the curriculum, but they’re also learning from the students.

“Some teachers are frazzled about how to present this information,” Moran said.

“And it’s really nice for me to know what the kids are seeing online,” Den Herder said.

Students are also seeing the benefit because they are the ones who are encountering the issues on a daily basis.

“I think it’s important for us to hear it,” WHS senior Nicole Bonfig said. “Sometimes it’s hard hearing something from a teacher because it feels like work or that we’re being force fed it, but this is valuable to learn when technology is getting more prevalent.”

WHS senior Melissa Johnson said she feels that the biggest issue with the digital world facing high school students is a lack of face-to-face communication.

“It’s getting more difficult to communicate,” she said, “but it’s becoming the norm.”

Additionally, Macalus said, finding an online identity is becoming more difficult.

“It’s becoming difficult to know how to monitor who you are,” he said. “Everyone tries to tailor their social media profiles around who they want to be and that detracts from your true self.”

Moran said teaching students how to be good digital citizens will only be beneficial for them, and the digital world, in the future.

“In a weird way, they are the trailblazers for the digital world,” he said. “Twenty years from now, we’re going to be able to see their footprint.” 

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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