Common Sense Education Launches Digital Bytes

January 16, 2015
By Educator Innovator

What does walking on water, a nine-year-old cardboard magnate, rotoscoping, and communities of kindness all have to do with each other? They are all part of a new informal learning program from Common Sense called Digital Bytes.

Digital Bytes is a brand-new site for teens, ages 13 and up, to discover, analyze, and explore what it means to be a digital citizen in today’s tech- and media-rich landscape. The program engages teens in media reflection, media deconstruction, and media creation activities, all highlighting the 24/7, real world landscape of media and technology. Using the Digital Bytes website, teens choose a topic, or “Byte,” that resonates with their interests. They learn from the real-world experiences of others who’ve encountered digital dilemmas.

Two years ago, we at Common Sense Education began receiving quite a number of inquiries from after-school providers who were interested in introducing the curricular themes from our K-12 Digital Literacy & Citizenship Curriculum to their teens. Yet we knew that teens in after-school programs would respond well to an approach that was more student-directed, inquiry-based, and involved media production projects.

So we began to wonder:
• How might we spark teens’ interest around current digital citizenship topics?
• How might we elicit their opinions and perspectives on today’s digital world?
• How might we encourage them to take a project-based learning approach to these issues?

To dive into Digital Bytes, teens can choose a role to explore from: pioneer, doer, thinker, creator. Or they can choose from one of four thematic buckets: Our Generation, Interpretation, Activism, and Innovation. Whether teens are curious about online activism, entrepreneurship, or their digital reputations, they can choose from and dive into one of eight modules, which we call “bytes.”

Each byte has five steps:
1. Reflect: First, teens watch a video mashup and begin to reflect on how the topic ties to their everyday lives
2. Watch: Next, they choose a case study video to watch, diving deeper into the issue at hand
3. Discuss: In small collaborative groups, the teens discuss video-based, open-ended questions in order to share their perspectives and opinions
4. Engage: Then, they choose from one of two media creation activities in order to engage with new tech tools and take a participatory role, while lending their voice to the topic
5. Share: Lastly, we encourage teens to capture their work process and final creations so that we can feature some of their work on our the Digital Bytes site

In early field-testing, we were thrilled to see teens in New York City take the concept of copyright and creative credit by creating videos that highlighted the nefarious activity of buying fake labeled handbags downtown. It underscored an authentic learning process, through which the teens were taking an abstract concept like intellectual property and aligning it to their everyday lives. The rich discussions and creative media productions emphasized the positive role that technology can have in learning today.

We are excited to see how after-school providers will utilize Digital Bytes within their program’s goals. Additionally, we already have seen many classroom teachers use Digital Bytes in conjunction with our K-12 Digital Literacy & Citizenship Curriculum for a blended learning approach. We are committed to adding bytes on an ongoing basis, so please do tell us what you think about the program and which topics your teens would like to learn more about.

By Darri Stephens, Director of Digital Learning at Common Sense Education