Post by Ben Capper
How we started and where we’re going
The DigCitInstitute is creating a new generation of change-makers. What started as a course evolved into a call for action, when a professor and two of her students started extending learning beyond the classroom.
That professor was Dr. Marialice B.F.X. Curran, and those two students were Nicholas Howley and Tracy Mercier.
Back in 2010, Nicholas and Tracy were both graduate students in the Educational Technology program at the University of Saint Joseph. Although they were never in the same course together, they both had the same professor and academic advisor. Marialice was known around campus as an innovative professor who personalized the learning objectives for each student. Although her syllabi only listed the outcomes; the students were empowered to design the assignments, due dates and projects. Nicholas and Tracy thrived in this learning environment and it should come as no surprise that this was just the beginning of three passionate people working together beyond a university campus.
Nine years later, this trio continues to work together to amplify student voice, through a community approach; with the aim of changing the narrative around how we interact with the online world.
How it all began
The DigCitSummit is one of the most obvious results of this work. From its humble beginnings at the iCitizenship Town Hall Meeting in 2012; to its cross continental reach in 2019, it’s fair to say that it has been a passion project, not just for the Institute, but also for educators, students, and organizations right across the world.
And like all great movements, it all started with an idea in class that was inspired by students.
Marialice went to visit Tracy’s third grade classroom and her students wanted to see if she was making socially responsible decisions online. It was the first time Marialice was aware of being Googled and that moment is part of the impetus behind this digital citizenship journey. As a result she credits Tracy and her third graders for changing her teaching practice.
And in turn, Tracy credits Marialice for inspiring her to bring technology into her classroom. But no matter which happened first, it made a significant change that propelled each of them to dedicate their time and practice to making a positive impact in the digital realm.
Around the same time, cyberbullying suicide stories were dominating the headlines. The story of one student in particular, Tyler Clementi really affected Marialice, “I was a new mother and I thought Tyler Clementi could be my son.”
“But no matter what, Tyler Clementi is a son, brother, grandson, friend, neighbor and most importantly, a human being. The “It Gets Better” campaign came out in full force to support students, but it made me think, what can I do right now to make things better for all students?
Nicholas was enrolled in Educational Psychology that semester with Marialice and as the saying goes, timing in life is everything. Nicholas uploaded his final project onto the It Gets Better website as a way to tell his own story and further support LGBTQ students.
Just like Tracy’s third graders, this moment further defined the collective reasons behind a professor and two of her graduate students beginning their digital citizenship journey together.
The iCitizen Project
By the fall semester of 2011 Marialice's students live-tweeted during class and connected with other classrooms and experts around the world. It was during this semester that she just happened to be online during a live stream ‘Stand up to Cyberbullying” event. With just one click, she was able to participate and thought, “This is amazing, we could do this on our campus.”
That semester, Marialice created and taught a First Year Seminar called, ‘Pleased to Tweet You: Are You a Socially Responsible Digital Citizen?’ for incoming freshmen at the University of Saint Joseph, “I knew the course would make an impact for the college freshmen, but I thought it could be even more meaningful if we connected with another class, so I blogged about it and asked if any other classrooms wanted to join us. Many responded, but Beth Sanders, a second year teacher at the time, made it happen with her high school juniors and joined us virtually from Birmingham, Alabama. Geography was not an issue since our classes met online and all of our connections were virtual. It was an opportunity to model the power of social media as a learning tool.”
The collaborative project was called the iCitizen Project and the students focused on humanizing the person next to them, around the world, and across the screen.
How the Summit began
Just like the elements of a perfect symphony, everything that happened during the fall of 2011 led to Marialice, Nicholas and Tracy, as well as Beth Sanders and her high school juniors being part of the live streamed event, the iCitizenship Town Hall Meeting in February 2012.
On stage were local experts, the college freshmen from the First Year Seminar course, Nicholas and other students. Behind the panel was a large screen where Beth and her high school juniors joined the conversation alongside the other experts on stage. It was a powerful moment where students were leading the change. For those students it was about “focusing on the action, and encouraging students to empower and inspire other students, with their words and actions, on and offline.”
Off stage was Tracy and other students who were live tweeting the event. Our town hall live stream generated over 800 tweets and was watched across the country, Canada, Australia and Jordan.
This was the first spark for Marialice, Nicholas and Tracy as they began to work with local, global and digital communities.
Tired of digital citizenship being an add on to bullying conferences, technology events, and to professional development opportunities, the first all digital citizenship conference happened in October 2015. The DigCitSummit was held on the same university campus where Marialice, Nicholas and Tracy began their digital citizenship journey together.
“Our college campus could only hold 200 people, but we live streamed, and that day we were the No 1 trending topic on Twitter. At that point we knew we’d struck a nerve. People were hungry for this new narrative about going from the reactive to the proactive, and we were learning together in a multi-stakeholder approach, including parents, teachers, students, business leaders thought leaders and tech organizations, so we could show that DigCit isn’t just something we do at school but something that we do at home, and at work.”
No Summit is the same as the next!
Nicholas, who is the DigCitInstitute’s Director of Operations and DigCitSummit Director explains why he’s still involved:
"I'm not an educator. I work in the non-profit world as a database manager, and at the time was enrolled in a masters program focused on education, technology, and counseling - I just felt a connection with the way Marialice taught and opened the classroom up for exploration. I was able to look through the classroom lens at myself and see myself in the curriculum - and also leverage technology in a way that augmented the curriculum, content, and learning experience. This is what initially set me down the path to where I am with the Institute and Summit today. “
In many ways, the Summit is structured like the coursework and syllabi Marialice created where each Summit is personalized to meet the needs of the particular community with an overall focus on a multi-stakeholder approach towards changing the narrative around technology and social media to move from being reactive to proactive. The overall goal of the Summit is for a community to learn together, side by side by having deliberate and meaningful conversations together. As Nicholas shared, “Each organizer knows their community best. So we work in collaboration with them in a supporting role.”
And it’s a model that works no matter the location, and the local priorities:
“No Summit is the same as the next. They really take on the flavor of the location, and the nature of the content that the organizers want to address.”
“Why not me?” All it takes is one person.
The Summit has since grown into a global phenomenon. But it’s still coordinated by our small team at the DigCitInstitute.
And all you need to do to get involved is to be passionate. As long as you have the interest, then you can lead a conversation in your school, area, country or even continent!
Marialice explains, “You don’t need to be an expert. You just need a willingness and a disposition to say ‘Why not me? What can I do to make a difference.’ All it takes is one person to stand up and speak up, and then one person becomes many.”
And it’s this collective approach that has made the Summit so meaningful, and so successful:
“This has been something that has been done collectively”, says Marialice.
“There wasn’t just one person. One opportunity might’ve inspired someone, but this is something that was done collectively as a result of a lot of moments all influencing each other, and that’s really powerful. Some people I’ve never even met have made this happen, but I’m proud to still be on this journey with Nicholas and Tracy.”
What the future holds for digital citizenship
We believe that by embracing digital citizenship, we have the opportunity to empower a new generation of radical change makers:
Tracy, our Chief Content Creator, sees a really bright future for today’s digital citizens as they become tomorrow’s digital leaders:
“I see this generation making radical change and putting faces to serious global issues that are going on - coming up with powerful solutions for crises that are affecting people all across the globe. It’s technology that’s going to really help them do that.”
As a Library Media Specialist, she sees student potential for changing the world every day. They have an eagerness to connect with others in a way that students five years ago didn’t have because of the technology available today. With that eagerness comes uncertainty and hesitation because they aren’t always quite sure what to do with it or the potential it holds.
“It’s about showing people that tech and social media is not something that needs to be feared. We can be proactive in helping young people use it and use it well.”
How you can get involved in 2019
We have some incredibly exciting plans and ideas for 2019. Marialice explains:
“In October during DigCitWeek, we’re hosting our 5th Annual DigCitSummit as a week-long virtual summit; which will be a great opportunity for classrooms to connect, and experience a live panel with speakers giving DigCitImpact Talks asking ‘What kind of impact are you making?’ They’ll be much like a TED or Ignite Talk to inspire people to make an impact in their own communities.”
With Summits already having taken place in the UK, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, and across the US and Canada, 2019 is shaping up to be an incredible year.
We are looking forward to working with more communities, including Lake Shore Central in upstate New York as we begin to focus on student-led DigCitSummits as part of our professional development packages for school communities to learn together in the classroom, at home and at work.
To find out more about upcoming Summits, or to inquire about hosting one at your school, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our website at digcitinstitute.com.