education's digital future

Interview With NYC Schools’ social media chief Lisa Nielsen on next gen ed

Digital learning is one of those trendy education buzz phrases that means a lot of different things to different people. To some, it refers to instructional software, such as animated lectures and computerized worksheets. To others, it’s about personalized instruction, where computer algorithms determine what a student should learn next. Still others think of how students can use high-tech gadgets to make their own video, music and publishing projects.

And then there’s social media — how students and teachers use social networks, Twitter, blogs and wikis to communicate with each other, parents and the outside world. We talked with Lisa Nielsen, a social media advocate, who is the first person to hold this newly created job title: director of digital literacy and citizenship at the New York City Department of Education. The 44-year-old has worked in the city’s education department since the 1990s, serving in a wide variety of posts, from librarian and reading coach to teacher trainer and professional development administrator.

Q: What does Digital Literacy and Citizenship mean?

Digital literacy means understanding the world that our kids are now living in. So much of what we do and how we access information is online. We need to be smart about reading, understanding, deciphering online texts and interacting in an online world.

The citizenship part is, just like we want to help students become great citizens face-to-face, we want to ensure best practices for being a good digital citizen as well.

Q: What exactly do you do?

I just started this position in September. This year we are focused on helping teachers develop their own digital literacy. Next year, we’ll be focusing more on students interacting with each other online.

So far, I’ve developed teacher training materials. I’ve trained a few dozen teachers and hope to train many more this winter and spring. We show teachers how to use social media, like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and wikis. We give teachers a “digital makeover” so that they can control how they want to be seen online. And finally, they get practice creating their own social media page or group. We explain when it’s a good idea to have a closed group that others can’t see and when you want to celebrate your students’ work with the world.

Right now, all of our schools have at least a website, but now we’re showing them how to join the Web 2.0 world and make it interactive.

Q: Do you do the training on line?

Right now, it’s face to face. I’m creating an online course at the moment.

Q: Does your job exist anywhere else in the world outside of New York City?

I’m heavily involved in the use of social media and I’m not aware of other school districts who have a position like this.

Q: Why does it exist in New York City?

This job came about because teachers weren’t sure....

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