Cyber Safety/Ethics Curriculum Educates Digital Natives

| January 20, 2012

Students in diocesan schools are learning important lessons in cyber safety and cyber ethics as part of the technology curriculum.

Caroline K. Reff

Even some of the youngest in our Catholic schools can amaze us with their abilities to surf the internet, download a video or send
a text. It’s second nature for these “digital natives” who were raised with computers in their homes and classrooms and cell phones and iPads at their fingertips. Clearly, there are widespread educational advantages to technology that schools throughout the Syracuse Diocese are incorporating into daily use, yet the cyber world also brings with it a new set of responsibilities and the need to prevent unethical or illegal activity and exploitation.

“Today’s students are faced with issues unheard of 20 years ago,” said Dominick Lisi, director of educational technology for the Syracuse Diocese. “Cyber bullying, identity theft, online predators — these are unfortunate but real issues that our students need to be aware of in order to protect themselves and act responsibly.”

As part of the Catholic schools’ initiative to educate and challenge 21st Century digital natives, and in an effort to place Catholic identity as the first and most important goal of Catholic education, a new cyber ethics and cyber safety curriculum was incorporated into classrooms beginning in September 2011. The curriculum enhances previous standards with a more comprehensive approach that offers students in kindergarten through grade eight the opportunity to learn the safe and ethical use of a variety of technology. It is based on one of six National Education Technology Standards for students, developed by the International Society
for Technology Education (ISTE): promoting and modelling digital citizenship and responsibility, and is part of a larger goal to create a standardized technology curriculum throughout all diocesan schools for the 2012-2013 school year.

Individual lesson plans are based on information from Common Sense Media (, a national nonprofit that provides tools to help parents and educators “thrive in the world of media and technology.” Students learn quickly that a “digital footprint” can never truly be deleted and that the apparent anonymity of the internet does not mean they are invisible to others. They’re learning to create foolproof passwords and to avoid cyber bullying and identity theft, as well as practical lessons that touch on copyright infringement and the responsible use of email and other online communication.

While teachers are providing these lessons to the students, Lisi acknowledges that parents are a key part of the process, as well. To that end, many schools are holding parent internet and technology events.

“Parents are aghast when they learn what is out there and how quickly a predator can get to a student,” said Judy Hauck, principal of Notre Dame Elementary School of a recent parent information session on cyber safety. “This curriculum builds in safety nets to protect our children and educates parents in ways they can reinforce these lessons. We can monitor them in school, but what happens once they get home? This is an opportunity for parents to open up a dialogue with their children and — most importantly — keep their children safe.”

As e-books, iPads and iPods become teaching tools and students depend on computer and cell phones for basic communication with parents and friends, it is clear that technology in the classroom is here to stay and evolving rapidly. So, too, will the lessons that go with it, as teachers, administrators, parents and students in the Diocese of Syracuse work together to challenge digital natives in the classroom and further Catholic identity through this newly-established curriculum.

“This is an outstanding curriculum. It allows us to teach issues related to cyber ethics and cyber security to even our youngest students, making them aware of some of the dangers and pitfalls without scaring them,” said Angela Tierno, principal of Seton Catholic at All Saints, Endicott, NY. “The lessons build upon one another as students progress through the grade levels and discover more uses for the internet and other forms of social media that children today take for granted.”

The cyber ethics and cyber safety curriculum will challenge students growing up in a digital age to think critically, surf safely and utilize technology responsibly, while fostering the use of technology in the classrooms. “This initiative is a giant step forward in helping students become responsible digital citizens and developing the proper digital literacy skills,” said Lisi, “All while reinforcing Gospel values in our classrooms.”

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Category: Digital, Featured

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