Ben Cogswell is one of our favorite educators. Here’s why…
Of all the many amazing educators, and students across the world, some stand out as real leaders in digital citizenship.
Ben Cogswell, is one such leader.
Based in Salinas CA, Ben reaches out to fellow teachers, students, parents across the world to help them navigate the digital world positively, through a super engaging online personality, known worldwide as Coach Ben!
Ben is a great advocate for positivity in the digital world and for the power of tech to do good. So he can very much be classed as an expert in his field and was recently recognized as CUE 2019 BOLD Educator of the Year for his commitment to learning in a virtual or blended setting.
“There are so many amazing possibilities with tech.”
But, it’s his empathy with kids and their parents that is probably his strongest asset.
And it was his dual experience as a teacher and a parent that drives him to help others:
“Being an educator you always see what kids are doing at school, and seeing what’s appropriate and inappropriate”, says Ben
“But more importantly I think is being a parent. I feel like tech has a bad rap. A lot of it is seeing that there are so many amazing possibilities with tech, and how do we get people to create things with it.”
“But kids need support, teachers need support and parents need support, to make the most of it.”
Ben also is inspired to act by his own experience is a tech-enthusiast kid, discovering the online world for the first time:
“I go back to when I was a kid and I remember I had a computer. I had an Apple 2E, and then we got a 28k modem. I feel like no one ever taught us how to act on the internet. We just had to figure it out for ourselves. And I did some things I shouldn’t have. I was probably in some chat rooms that I shouldn’t have been on AOL - but back then I guess we didn’t really know that we shouldn’t just go in all these random chat rooms and talk to all these different strangers.
“Well now we know!”
“Citizenship is being kind to people.’
For Ben, Digital Citizenship is an idea that translates into every aspect of our lives, both on and offline; and whether you’re a kid or an adult.
It’s a really persuasive argument, when we consider how engrained technology has been to every aspect of our lives; down to how we interact with our favourite family activities:
“I just got back from Disney Land with my family. While I’m there, I pull out my phone and scan my ticket; then I took a picture. And I thought ‘where is this line between how I’m acting as a person, and how I’m acting with my device?’”
“So I’m taking a picture, but now I’m posting that picture, and all of a sudden now I’m a digital citizen? That doesn’t make sense the way we view it.”
So, is it time to drop the “digital” from “digital citizenship” when we think about how to be a productive, positive person in a tech-enabled age?
Ben thinks so:
“Citizenship is being kind to people. Helping to raise the next generation to be better. Being positive, being productive, solving problems, and giving back.”
“It’s so much easier to give back: it’s easy togo to a forum and help someone. It’s about how we manage our lives.”
“It’s not so much this dichotomy between the digital world and the real world. It’s lessening all the time. Especially now that we have these portable devices - they’re really almost a part of everything we do now.”
Ben is a constant source of learning and inspiration in this area, and is well known and regarded online.
But, his approach is maybe not as planned as it appears!
“I throw my rock in the pond wherever I can and try to create some ripples!”
And those ripples help teachers with everyday challenges that, as a parent of 4, he empathises with only too well:
“The other day I came home and my kids were watching YouTube, and I could see they were pulling their iPad back, so that was a conversation we had to have. So I wondered how other parents were dealing with this, so literally I streamed it on Facebook Live. So I had that real conversation right there.
And the response from parents on such impromptu online gatherings can be very meaningful:
Parents say” Thank for sharing that” or “I never thoughts of that!”.
So what does Ben find that adults are most concerned about when it comes to tech:
“They look at tech as something that isolates us. They look at the kids walking down the streets on their phone.”
“For many teachers it’s like ‘Ok go to the computer, open this program, log in, answer the questions and get some feedback.’
“For most parents it’s like ‘here’s your device, go watch some YouTube, go play a game.’”
"Parents are worried about cyber bullying on social media - and some of them are very valid concerns, so I try to create that splash how I can, when I can.”
“Video games can be great!”
Ben of course is a loving parent, and an inspiring teacher.
But what also really comes across when you speak to him, is his genuine enthusiasm for tech and digital play:
“I mean I think video games can be great! I grew up playing video games. There’s problem-solving, there’s challenges in them (depending on what you’re playing).”
“But the problem is that kids don’t necessarily do it together. You often have the situation where Kid A over here is playing Fortnite, and Kid B over here is doing something separate. And when do we ever say, ‘Hey we have the Nintendo Switch, we’re going to take turns, you guys are going to work together?’”
Ben says, that when it comes to video games, we need the same approach to how families wold traditionally play board games together”
“We used to play board games as a family, now all of a sudden we’re playing video games, and it’s seen as negative. But I said, ‘we’re playing this together - we chose Yoshi’s World, because it’s a family-friendly game, with barely any violence. We can play it together. We can take turns.' There’s a lot of imagination in there . And so we were saying that you need to be a more critical consumer, and think what your kids are playing, and do it together “
The California DigCitSummit
We’re super excited to be working with Ben on bringing the DigCitSummit to California in September 2019.
And it’s a challenge that Ben has a great vision for:
“My goal is to strike some of these things that people aren’t aware of, and face to face is a great opportunity to connect people across California and beyond to start connecting about these things.”
“The goal is to connect students, parents and teachers around some of these topics.”
It’s about asking: “how do we start having some of those conversations, because the whole world has changed. How do we keep these things positive.
“It’s at a high school - but our aim is to have a bit of a mix of presentations on site, and remote. Whether it’s people streaming from their house or doing some pre-recorded sessions.”
And the Summit will be as inclusive as possible, with many of the sessions and materials being provided in Spanish:
“In California we have a large Spanish speaking population. I teach a class where 100% of their parents speak Spanish. A lot speak English too, but I want to make sure we give that understanding to everyone.”
We’re proud to be collaborating with Ben, and Monterey Bay CUE in bringing the Summit to California.
“It’s people coming together who are passionate about DigCit and trying to make it happen”, says Ben.
“The DCI have connected us on a larger scale.”
“This is just one conference but it’s going to take all these people coming together to help make some of this stuff shift culturally.”
Ben’s enthusiasm, drive, and empathy are some of the reasons why he’s one of our favourite DigCit advocates and educators.
Find out more about the California Summit
See more about Ben’s work
We are proud to announce Empatico as part of our 2019 - 2020 DigCitAPPROVED partners.
“Empatico empowers teachers and students to explore the world through experiences that spark curiosity, kindness, and empathy. We combine live video with activities designed to foster meaningful connections among students ages 6-11.”
Empatico aims to connect millions of educators and children so they can experience other communities, share their lives, and learn about others different from themselves. Currently, over 15,000 educators are registered from more than 135 countries connecting close to 24,000 students around the world. The free platform allows educators like Wendy Turner to build social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom, “one day at a time, one experience at a time, with great intention, focus and practice.”
To us, at the Digital Citizenship Institute, we proudly give the stamp of digital citizenship approval (DigCitAPPROVED) to Empatico as both a tool and platform, as well as a company and organization.
DigCitAPPROVED Tool and Platform
As a tool and platform, Empatico provides opportunities for classrooms to build a foundation focused on curiosity, critical thinking, and empathy. These life skills are at the heart of our work and aligns with our DigCitCommunity Mindset. As a tool and platform, Empatico provides opportunities for classrooms to build a foundation focused on curiosity, critical thinking, and empathy. These life skills are at the heart of our work and aligns with our DigCitCommunity Mindset.
Empatico models digital citizenship by providing an avenue for young students who do not have the opportunity to experience new places, meet different types of people, or learn about other cultures. Empatico's activities are designed to promote greater understanding of similarities and differences and help students practice skills like respectful communication, perspective taking, cooperation, and critical thinking, each of which is crucial to building towards digital citizenship and global competence. These Empatico experiences resonate with our one world, one human race message where it doesn’t matter where you live or what language you speak because there are more things that make us similar than make us different; and what makes us different is the fabric of our shared humanity.
During an Empatico exchange, students practice four crucial skills: perspective taking, critical thinking, respectful communication, and cooperation to build strong relationships, especially with people from different backgrounds and cultures. As a tool and platform, Empatico has built in opportunities to put digital citizenship into action by (1) preparing for their exchange, (2) interacting with their peers, and (3) reflecting on the experience afterwards. These three steps provide students with the necessary support to successfully participate in a live video interaction with a partner class, and then reflect on how their thinking has changed over the course of the exchange. By creating shared and engaging interactions for educators and students, Empatico believes they can spark a global movement to spread kindness and empathy around the world.
DigCitAPPROVED Company and Organization
Empatico was co-founded by Daniel Lubetzky, CEO and Founder at KIND as an opportunity for children to discover each other’s humanity. The KIND Foundation (2016) recognizes the need to promote empathy & kindness.
“I’ve always felt that it’s our shared obligation to leave this world better than we found it. Since becoming a father, I have felt this more urgently and deeply. When I first conceived the idea for Empatico, it seemed like an immediate need for conflict zones like the Middle East, but not necessarily for America. I never imagined that in my lifetime I would come to see the American system as fragile as I recognize it to be today, and a global system facing mounting threats of extremism and intolerance. There is a lot that we need to do to improve the world, including developing the ability to be better listeners and more critical thinkers, and we can’t do it without our kids as part of the solution.” Daniel Lubetzky
Empatico stands out to us as a company and organization committed to building a generation of young learners who truly experience the human being sitting next to them, around the world and across the screen. Since our core values have students at the center of our work, we believe students need to be part of the solution.
Be the Digital Change
This APPROVED partnership supports local, global, and digital communities working together to think critically and act creatively as we solve problems and create solutions together, both on and offline. Empatico’s why resonates with us as a wonderful tool, platform, company, and organization who provides students opportunities to learn about different perspectives and practice interpersonal skills that are crucial for building cross-cultural relationships later in life, through technology and virtual exchange. Our missions are well-aligned to transform participants into designers, creative thinkers, global collaborators, problem solvers, and justice-oriented citizens. Through our shared vision to prepare students for a more collaborative and global world, and through leveraging technology for social good, our work together has the potential to drastically impact and change the lives of students across the globe for the better.
Interested in becoming one of our DigCitAPPROVED partners, contact us
What if students became the teachers for a day?
What if this day empowered students to be digital leaders in their school communities for the rest of their lives? What if teachers, school administrators, parents, and community members got so inspired by these students that they too vowed to support all students on their digital citizenship journeys?
This March, a student-led Digital Citizenship Summit accomplished all of this and more in Lake Shore Central School District.This combination of student leadership, educator buy-in, and the DCI’s global perspective led to a Summit that was unique in its creativity, energy, and connectivity with its school community.
Located about 30 minutes from Buffalo NY, Lake Shore serves around 2,500 students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. It’s a school that has put digital technology at the very heart of how it inspires its students through learning.
Their journey towards hosting their DigCitSummit started with students wanting to show children around the world, as well as people in their local community how the internet can, and should be a tool for doing good.
District Technology Integrator, Michael Drezek explains: "Through hosting our own DigCitSummit we really wanted to highlight the importance of digital citizenship and how it can be embedded into all subject areas, Everyone has an effective role to play; from students to educators, administrators to parents, through to our wider community members too.
“We know that technology plays a big part in our daily life, and we really wanted to drive home that it can be used for good in many different ways.”
Michael, along with a team of teachers across each school within the Lake Shore District, worked closely with the DigCitInstitute (DCI) to bring together their Summit, which was held on March 15th.
“When the DigCitInstitute came in, we looked at the work we were already doing with our students and talked about the importance of empowering students to become teachers of digital citizenship.”
Deann Poleon, K-12 Technology Integrator at Lake Shore explains more: “The students were motivated and energized by the idea that they would be teaching the teachers of the district. They also understood that their work could have an impact and be used by teachers and students throughout the district. They really wanted to show the teachers what they could do.”
This combination of student leadership, educator buy-in, and the DCI’s global perspective led to a Summit that was unique in its creativity, energy, and connectivity with its school community.
Students, parents, and community members came together to celebrate Lake Shore students’ ingenuity; and experience student-led demonstrations of:
To get a taste of the action on this impactful day, enjoy the following productions created with the help of recent Lake Shore graduate, Connor Kwilos:
Feedback from those attending the event has also been empowering:
Excellent program. I appreciate the work that the students put into this event and loved learning from them!
It was amazing turning over the material I taught students and letting them decide what adults should learn and watching them blossom. They went so beyond my expectations. It was phenomenal!
I realize there is so much more to explore in the digital world that students can use for the good.
For Michael and his team, however, it was vital that throughout the day the students lead the conversations.
“Equipping our students with skills like these at such a young age is really important. We hope they’ll remember what they’ve achieved and carry it on from grade to grade, and after they graduate.”
Working with the team at the DigCitInstitute has been critical in making Lake Shore’s vision a reality.
Michael said, “As advocates for technology they were able to highlight examples from classrooms around the world and make it meaningful for our students.”
Dr. Marialice B.F.X. Curran, Founder and Executive Director of the DigCitInstitute is so proud of the Lake Shore Central School District:
“What I loved about Lake Shore’s student-led DigCitSummit was the intergenerational approach of learning together side-by-side. Instead of talking at students, the DigCitSummit was an opportunity to talk and learn with students. It was a wonderful reminder that digital citizenship isn’t just something we talk about or do at school, it is something we need to actively do at home and at work.”
And Lake Shore’s Summit is right at the heart of the DigCitInstitute’s vision for offering school communities professional and personal development for educators, parents, students and the community at large.
This student-led DigCitSummit planted the seed for continued citizenship growth and impact for years to come. Everyone involved realized that this work is too important to be a stand-alone event. A ripple effect of good was done. Lake Shore Central plans to continue this work in classrooms, at home and throughout the community as well as continue to inspire others around the world to follow their lead. To keep up with the action, follow along with the hashtag #digcitLSC on your favorite social media channels.
To learn more about bringing a DigCitSummit to your community and working with the DigCitInstitute, contact us at email@example.com.
Guest post Kevin Chaja and Marialice B.F.X. Curran