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Ottawa Catholic School Board ties religion curriculum to responsible technology use

BY NECO COCKBURN, OTTAWA CITIZEN NOVEMBER 6, 2013

When a Samaritan sees a traveller whom thieves had beaten and left along a road, he stops to help even though others had passed by, a parable states.

With the “digital road” of technology and the Internet now posing both challenges and opportunities for students, the Ottawa Catholic School Board is preparing to start a new weeklong initiative that ties its religion curriculum to responsible technology use and aims to have students become “discerning digital citizens.”

Lessons developed over the summer and linked to the parable of the Good Samaritan are meant to help students to navigate the digital world, touching on everything from rights and responsibilities to social media, online communities and issues such as sexting and cyberbullying, according to board materials.

Schools next week are to launch the “online resource” dubbed Samaritans on the Digital Road. It consists of five primary lessons for each grade from one to 12, said Brenda Wilson, the board’s superintendent, student success (learning technologies).

The Catholic board was quick to embrace wireless technologies and “bring your own device to school” policies, Wilson said in an interview.

It wanted students to be able to use technology as a learning tool, and “along with that comes a great deal of worry about kids being able to access online resources but also anything online, and to text, and all of the things that come with social media,” she said.

“We wanted to develop a program that was certainly coming from the perspective of the Catholic school board, but also to make our citizens that we are graduating responsible in the digital world, as well as responsible citizens coming out of our schools.”

A different section of the parable is used for each grade. Lessons plans are deemed to be “age appropriate,” and will involve an exploration of topics such as avoiding advertising, digital collaboration, being a bystander, password privacy, safety, starting a movement, legal and social consequences, plagiarism, safety in chat rooms, online harassment, piracy and pornography.

“The conversation is very different at each grade level, although it is all about responsible use of digital resources,” Wilson said.

The initiative formalizes lessons around technology for each age group, Wilson said. It is to include a public website, and is timed “as a prelude” to Ontario’s Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week that takes place from Nov. 17 to 23, she said. To see the website for the Samaritans project, click HERE.

Religion teachers are responsible for the program at each school, but the religion curriculum is integrated by all teachers throughout the day, Wilson said.

“The focus of the conversation, if you’re in English class, or if you’re in a math class, is that all of the teachers in the school are on board, and they’re going to be giving examples and relating this to the kids very specifically on the lesson of the day, and then sending home the conversation in the evening so that the parents are also part of the conversation,” she said.

The Good Samaritan, Wilson said, “is very universal, it goes across all religions, and it really is part of a character education and values education that is taught in all of the schools, and we certainly acknowledge that. But this really gives it some meat for our own teachers in terms of what do we want to say as a Catholic school board.”

The five general lessons under the Ottawa Catholic School Board’s Samaritans on the Digital Road initiative:

Lesson 1 — Being a citizen

Students look at the relationship that an individual has with the greater community, including rights and responsibilities. “Students will identify why people ‘pass by on the other side’ (like passersby do in the parable) and why a healthy society requires its citizens to actively participate in search of social good,” as demonstrated by the good Samaritan.

Lesson 2 — Being a digital citizen

Ideas from the first lesson are applied to the online world. “These lessons focus on our responsibility as a citizen to act in a discerning, honourable and compassionate way while online.”

Lesson 3 — Participating in an online community

“Students are exposed to the potential found in the Internet as a medium for learning, dialogue, participating in a social cause and rallying support worldwide.” Includes exploration of social media to see how people can use the Internet to cause change and seek justice and compassion for others in need.

Lesson 4 — On the road

Discussions about challenges found on the Internet. “Students learn how to avoid and respond to inappropriate behaviours in an environment where anonymity pervades,” and “teachers will provide students with strategies to negotiate the risks and issues of conscience found online.”

Lesson 5 — Show your learning

Students will create art, write and complete other projects “to show newly acquired knowledge and skills.” Their work “will be grounded in the parable of the Good Samaritan as they find connections between Jesus’ teachings about empathy, action, justice and compassion to the complex world found online.”

Source: Samaritans on the Digital Road handout, Ottawa Catholic School Board (condensed for length.)

Article courtesy of The Ottawa Citizen.
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