High school students in Millburn will be learning healthier habits when using digital devices.
Millburn High School is one of the first public schools to purchase a new e-learning platform called The DIG Program for Digital Citizenship. DIG stands for Digital Individual Guidelines and is being used as a tool by schools and parents to teach kids to be safer, smarter and healthier when it comes to using online devices.
Launched on Aug. 6, Millburn resident Shari Stein created the program after her concerns grew regarding digital behavior. As a mother of two grown children who graduated from MHS, an educator, teacher and librarian, Stein realized the immediate need for her online learning platform.
“I felt like we needed to help students know when or how to use these devices,” explains Stein, 54, who has lived in Millburn for the past 24 years. “We need guidelines for our digital behavior.”
The DIG Program is now being purchased by schools for students as well as by parents to review with their children at home.
As an educator for 32 years, with the last 23 years as a librarian at JP Stevens High School in Edison and as an English teacher before that, Stein created a curriculum three years ago for Digital Citizenship at her school as a request by the former assistant superintendent.
While there were no “outrageous incidents” regarding misuse of digital technology at her school, she says there had been some instances of bullying, obsessive use and discourteous behavior as it relates to “when to put the device away” and how to use proper lingo in email.
“It was like little things happening at that point,” she explains, that dated back from when students were invited to bring in their technology.
It was six or seven years ago when Stein became a bit concerned when students were allowed to bring their own devices into the library, whether it was their cell phone or tablet in order to use Google Classroom or other online tools.
“They needed devices,” she says. “We hand them these devices without much explanation or guidance.”
She relates the concept to Driver’s Ed to teach a student how to drive safely, and health education with the need to discuss sexual relations and addiction.
“This is an addiction too,” she says, “we are using with digital devices.” She calls it “Driver’s Ed for Digital Super Highway.”
So Stein moved forward with creating a curriculum so students can become “smarter, healthier, safer in our lives.” She had to come up with the game plan, the objectives.
“What did we want students to take away,” she explains. “Content just really ran through all sorts of things.”
Once her program was approved, lessons were taught through the Social Studies classes at her school in Edison.
“It was so successful on a local level,” she says, with “great feedback from students and teachers. It became a discussion, a comfortable discussion on how to be more considerate, how to be healthier, how to be safer.”
Her success in Edison grew to her wanting to share her concept with other schools and parents. She “wanted to bring it to more than just Edison. It’s a worldwide issue.”
Stein explains how “No one was taking ownership,” with use of these devices. Schools were giving computers to students: “Parents were expecting schools to do something” to ensure proper use. “But parents were giving them phones,” she says.
After some research, Stein says she learned how some countries do provide programs on responsible digital use. South Korea offers a camp and programs for digital addiction and the UK provides a program nationally.
“The more I looked into it, other countries were doing a lot on this topic,” she says. “Driver’s Ed and Sex Ed starts off in school, just like Digital Ed” should.
With the DIG program, Stein decided that an e-learning course was the best way to bring this to other schools and parents.
She joined forces with Gabe Lowy of Chatham, her media relations coordinator and company president, who helped write the content for the program in February 2018.
Completed in the summer and launched in August, The Dig Program offers an online video module with activities and worksheets to students, and discussion guides to teachers and parents.
Stein says with many states starting to require “some sort of approach” to digital citizenship, the Dig Program is a great resource to accomplish that.
“There’s just so much information out there,” she says. “It’s got to be the same in other schools. Who’s going to take this on? Every teenager needs to have discussion to become safer, smarter, healthier in their online activities.”
So far MHS purchased the program for its ninth graders; Edison is allowing her to use the program at her school; a few parents who purchased it; and 15 schools are trialing the program in Morris and Bergen counties, as well as in Connecticut and New York.
The DIG Program contains five video modules that last 12 to 17 minutes and contains information, interviews, real life scenarios, worksheets, activities, discussion and optional strategies for students to explore their own digital footprint habits.
Topics include Conduct, Reputation, Authenticity, Safety and Habits. The program is geared to two different age levels: Grades five through eight, which covers more topics on bullying and gaming; and grades nine through 12, with topics more on sexting, readiness for college and careers, shopping and online selling.
“It’s comprehensive; it covers all that as it pertains to the cyber world,” says Stein. “Both programs touch on all of it,” but differ in regard to language and content, always being updated every six months.
“Things change,” says Stein, such as new social media apps or a new game, “so it’s good that we update” the program.
Based on activities during the modules, habits are reviewed with use of digital devices and students receive a baseline DIG score to examine their online experiences like how and when they use their devices, social media use as well as reading news, explains Stein.
The “score gives them an understanding on what they need to improve their online experiences,” says Stein. “The take-away from the program is actual strategies that they can use right away.”
Cost for the program is $19 per month for families; and a per student cost for schools during the school year. The modules are designed to be completed in one month.
While the DIG Program is a for profit business, Stein says her intentions are to give back to organizations that help others such as Mallory’s Army which raises awareness to bullying, or those that help with mental illness.
“It’s about making a different in kids’ lives,” says Stein, who received from Rutgers University a bachelor’s in English and education, as well as a master’s in library and information sciences. “I love being able to work with students and make their lives better. I use technology; I teach Google. I’m all in favor of it [digital devices] but it’s all about using it in a healthy way.” Stores close but the “internet is open” all the time. “It’s hard to put it down.”
More students need to understand that everything they post can be seen by others, including future employers and colleges.
“We need to get students to think before they click,” says Stein, a former PTO member, board member at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange and member of the Working Moms Group in Millburn. “Colleges will Google students. We can set our reputation to be healthier in our lives.” Goals: “Understanding the risks and the consequences, just understanding it.”
While other programs exist out there on responsible digital use, Stein says The Dig Program “It’s completely turn-key. It’s easy, efficient; it’s economical. We keep students engaged and learning and give them activities and strategies. It is self-managed; students can work at their own pace.”
Also with required standardized testing, schools “don’t have time to devote to this so students can do it at home,” says Stein.
Upon completion, students receive a certificate that verifies that they completed the DIG Program for Digital Citizenship.
When her son was 18 she recalls him saying, ‘Mom you’re always on your phone,’ says Stein. “I’d say ‘Wow, that’s not a good thing.’ I set up my own guidelines. I like my Instagram so I don’t check Instagram until 5 p.m. We need to set up our own habits on how we use phone and devices. It’s setting up ourselves not to do those things.”
For more information on The DIG Program, go to www.thedigprogram.com.