Character Education for a Digital Lifestyle

Part I: The Big Picture
Week 3

This course is in three parts:

  1. Part I. The Big Picture – A history and overview of digital citizenship; how to approach digital citizenship from a policy perspective
  2. Part II. Tools, Skills and Resources of Digital Citizenship – Theoretical and practical tools to help educators develop tools and approaches to address digital citizenship issues with students, schools, and districts
  3. Part III. Topics in Digital Citizenship – Of the many issues associated with digital citizenship, we have time to consider two: cyberbullying, media literacy

This week addresses Part I’s second topic: Character Education for a Digital Lifestyle.

Begin by watching this 9 minute screencast, which provides an overview of this week’s materials.


Part I, Topic 2: Character Education for a Digital Lifestyle

Essential question:

How can we adapt character education to the digital age, particularly to serve the purposes of developing digital citizenship awareness and K12 programs?

Other questions to consider:

  1. How can character education serve as foundation for the digital citizenship movement?
  2. How can we adapt traditional tools, like mission statements and brands, to help us implement digital citizenship programs in practical terms?

Goals, objectives, understandings:

  1. To explore the basic tenets and primary resources in the area of character education, as well as its history and its value for us as digital citizens.
  2. To identify roles that students should play in developing character education goals and norms, particularly in relation to digital citizenship.
  3. To explore how to modify existing missions, brands and other foundational school statements of direction, as an approach to setting direction for digital citizenship in districts, schools and classrooms.


Currently in the K12 education world, we are dealing with many issues associated with digital citizenship primarily on an individual basis. Sexting, digital footprints, cyber safety are treated as largely unrelated. The bottom line here is that we will never keep pace with the demands of digital citizenship if we treat each new situation that arises within the domain of digital behavior and ethics as an isolated issue. Most issues arise unannounced and take us off guard, and the new technologies we cannot foresee will give rise to issues we can’t imagine.

Digital citizenship begins with a
foundational approach, which in
turn will help us deal with individual
issues much more effectively.

We need to use some form of foundational approach to integrate and coordinate our hopes and concerns about living a digital lifestyle, particularly within the K12 community. An effective, time-honored approach to addressing values in educational systems is using character education as a framework. This week we look at how to use this framework as a perspective for viewing and understanding digital citizenship issues. Doing so will help us not only address current issues, but also develop policies, missions, and structures to address future issues as they arise.

Please note there are other foundational perspectives we could use, including Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Positive Psychology. This course doesn’t have time to explore all of these. The important point is this: digital citizenship is as much a symptom as it is a movement, and benefits from resting on a broader consideration of idealized human behavior. Doing so will help us see it as being connected historically to previous efforts to define what it means to be a productive and positive citizen.

This point can’t be stated emphatically enough: The new reality that character education must address is that we have entered an era of permanent innovative overdrive in which new tools will facilitate new behaviors on an ongoing, evolving and largely unpredictable basis. We prepare ourselves for this unpredictably by considering the kinds of character we want our students to develop, based on enduring human values.

ISTE Educator standards
addressed: 2, 6

A foundational approach to addressing this would allow us to establish expectations associated with student responsibility and safety, as well as opportunity and inspiration, as they relate to RL (real life), cyberspace and the world that bridges the two. Policies we create to address individual issues would make much more sense within such a context.

Students need to be involved

The part of the text you will read for this week provides a brief overview of the history of character education, and how character education programs are traditionally developed and implemented. We then look at how we might adapt traditional character education programs to the demands of the digital age. In every case, a character program is based on a set of values, usually developed by a committee whose membership is comprised of primary school stakeholders: parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, community members; we can only hope students have been invited. In fact let me make a statement that you will hear often throughout this course and in all of the presentations I make to parents and educators with regard to student involvement in developing digital citizenship programs:

If you aren’t framing the system, then you’re gaming the system. Below is an adaptation of my presentation about this idea:

Students need to become policy makers.
They need to develop Internet User
Agreements, cell phone policies, and other
guidelines for living a digital lifestyle.

Students need to become policy makers. If I could change one aspect of how digital citizenship is approached in this country it would be this: adults have to stop being the only people at the policy table when it comes to developing rules about cell phone use, Internet access, and social media, as well as all of the issues that await us in the future that we can’t even imagine right now. Students need to start developing their own perspectives and rules for their digital lifestyles. Ideally, they would lead this effort, perhaps through a group of representatives – Student government? Technology committee? They would then need to explain those policies to their peers and colleagues, and encourage their input and conversation.

Right now, we deprive students of this opportunity. It makes them victims of a system, rather than owners of it. The result is they game the system – that is, they figure out how it works in order to get around it. It robs them of an excellent opportunity to be framers of the system, to develop a metaperspective about the digital lifestyles they lead and develop behavioral guidelines that make sense to them. This is a real shame, because above all we need our students to think and talk about the digital lifestyles that are now invisible to them.

We want students to frame the
system, not game the system.

We don’t want them to game the system. We want them to frame the system. In order to do this, they need to be at the policy table, thinking and talking about the lives they lead and ultimately developing the rules they will live by.

You’re In Charge. In fact one of my favorite workshops to conduct with students is You’re in charge, in which they actually do develop their own rules to live by. But they don’t just talk about social media. They are also charged with coming up with rules for using the following in school that will no doubt begin appearing in schools at some point:

  1. Google Glass, and other forms of iGlasses – Should we let them in school? Under what conditions? Suppose they were free, and everyone had them…then what?
  2. Neuro enhancing hardware, aka “the math hat” – There is supposedly a cap one can wear that improves one’s ability to do math. Should we allow those in school? Under what conditions? After all, we allow people to use other forms of assistive technology. What’s different about this?

And these are just two of a number of technologies that will change our ethics and behavioral norms. In fact, we can count on an endless stream of such issues. To prepare our students to live in such a world, we need to give them opportunities to flex their ethical, critical and creative thinking muscles.
In this short video I run through a day’s worth of activities in about 9 minutes. But you will get the idea.

Click here if you want to watch a short screen cast about this workshop.

Two Camps of Ethical Perspective

Let me address an issue you won’t find in the text. I am doing so because it comes up frequently when I speak and engage with educators and parents. Basically the issue boils down to this: Why do we need a revamped set of ethical standards to deal with digital lifestyle issues? Isn’t stealing the same in RL and VR? Isn’t bad behavior, as well as good behavior, the same in both environments?

How I wish that were true. But my many years in educational technology tell me it isn’t. The bottom line is that for now, digital issues are different enough that we need to shine a light on them, talk about them, understand how they are related to RL issues, and also how they are different from them. This takes a special effort.


If you want to know more about my perspective, click here to watch a short screen cast about this. It will help you understand why some are finding it hard to understand the shift that digital citizenship represents.

Read/view/visit for this week:

  1. Read pages 101-103 of the text. This section of the book addresses the idea of school philosophies and school mantras.
  2. Watch Aligning your Existing Mission Aligning Missions(time- 2:30), which addresses how to modify an existing mission statement to make it more reflective of addressing living a digital lifestyle.
  3. Watch Mantra, Mottos and Brands (time- 3:20), Mantras mottos brandswhich addresses some of my experience with helping schools, policy makers, and students create a mantra that reflects the essence of their digital citizenship philosophy.

Read/scan Part III of Digital Community, Digital Citizen. In particular, pay attention to:

  • Chapter 9 Agenda Item 2: A Crash Course About Kids. (Scan/read this for background information about the issues we face in terms of helping students develop ethical thinking capabilities. These issues are emotional, development and neurological in nature.)
  • Chapter 10 Agenda Item 3: Character Education for the Digital Age and the Case of the Ideal School Board. (Read this one in depth.)

Character Education Resources

There are a number of organizations dedicated to character education. Here are links to just two. I recommend you visit these sites to learn more about them:

  1. Character Education Partnership. From their website:

    Vision and Mission
    Character Education Partnership (CEP) is a national advocate and leader for the character education movement. Based in Washington, DC, we are a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonsectarian coalition of organizations and individuals committed to fostering effective character education in our nation’s schools.


    The 11 Principles at a Glance

    The 11 Principles of Effective Character Education explains each of the 11 Principles and includes a scoring guide. It defines each principle more specifically in terms of two to four items that describe what the principle should “look like” when implemented. Download the entire publication (PDF).

    1. The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation of good character.
    2. The school defines “character” comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing.
    3. The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development.
    4. The school creates a caring community.
    5. The school provides students with opportunities for moral action.
    6. The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.
    7. The school fosters students’ self-motivation.
    8. The school staff is an ethical learning community that shares responsibility for character education and adheres to the same core values that guide the students.
    9. The school fosters shared leadership and long-range support of the character education initiative.
    10. The school engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort.
    11. The school regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students manifest good character.
  2. Character Counts. This program is supported by the Josephson Institute which “develops and delivers services and materials to increase ethical commitment, competence, and practice in all segments of society.” From their website:

    Mission: To improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making and behavior.


    Whose values?
    The Institute holds that ethical obligations are based on common ethical values applicable and knowable to all, regardless of gender, race, age, politics, or religion. These values, called the Six Pillars of Character, are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. They are the foundation of all of our programs.


Find our discussion for this week at the Google+ CommunityLook for my lead post for the week, which will always be a restatement of the week’s essential question. Please post at least one substantive posting about this week’s material, as well as at least three responses to colleagues’ postings. Please always address this question as well: How can you apply what you learned this week to your professional practice?

ePortfolio postings: By Sunday, post a 1-2 page synthesis of your major understanding from the week’s materials and discussion. Please use the following format:

  • Thesis (main point)
  • Development (discussion and support for your major point, referring to the week’s materials, as well as other sources and your own experience) (discussion and support for your major point)
  • Conclusion (wrap up of your discussion, and call for further study)

Add resources to your ePortfolio: As always, add resources you have discovered this week (or remembered from previous activities) to your ePortfolio. The goal is to build your ePortfolio into an online professional resource site you can use and build on in the future.

Citations, credits

Ohler, Jason. 2011. Digital Community, Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

World, in header [Photoshop created image]. (2011). Created by Larry Addington for Corwin Press. It is a modified version of the cover of my book Digital Community, Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.