In this episode, we are joined by Eisha Buch, the Director of Education Development and Programs at Common Sense Media. Eisha provides resources that can be used to help students develop healthy digital lifestyles. She unpacks the free lessons and web content—created to be both actionable and accessible—that are available on the Common Sense Education website.
All students need digital citizenship skills to participate fully in their communities and make smart choices online and in life.
Common Sense Education website
- Increase Digital Citizenship in Your Classroom (article)
- More Dos (and Fewer Don’ts) for Teaching Digital Citizenship (podcast episode)
- Address Digital Footprints: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (article)
- Enhance Classroom Netiquette and Diminish Cyberbullying (article)
- Left to Their Own Devices: Not All Screen Time Is Created Equal (article)
Free Resources and Lessons
Common Sense Media has released a new collection of lessons that addresses mental health and the role of technology among young people. This new collection focuses on digital well-being and consists of lessons designed for students in grades 6–12. Teachers do not need to be digital experts to implement these lessons. In fact, Common Sense Media has intentionally created them to be accessible and easy to implement with very little work or previous knowledge on the part of the teacher. To make them even more attractive to educators, these resources are free and accessible on the Common Sense Education website. The following are a few highlights from this episode:
- About Our Guest: Eisha Buch is a former teacher and current Director of Education Development and Programs at Common Sense Media. Eisha shares that she was drawn to “the mission of ‘how can I think about making a greater impact through curriculum development,’ and she has “been really passionate about helping people navigate . . . this online space that is really . . . not just something we can say is the online world. I think it’s just life and our world at this point.”
- Common Sense Media: Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization created “to help kids and families thrive in a media and tech-rich world.” In addition to providing curriculum, they also engage in advocacy work, conduct research, and provide ratings and reviews to “ensure young people are exposed to media and tech in age-appropriate ways.” Eisha says, “We want to make sure that teachers feel equipped to use media and tech in meaningful ways in the classroom, and we want to make sure that they have the lessons that they can then use with [students]—the professional development to help make sure that young people are using media tech in responsible and pro-social and healthy ways.”
- Digital Well-Being: Common Sense Media has been providing digital citizenship curriculum for over 12 years. Eisha says, “Given that tech is always evolving and changing, we’re constantly evolving, and changing, and adding to the curriculum.” One of those evolutions is a new curriculum package focused on the topic of digital well-being.
- Mental Health: Eisha says that this new digital well-being collection was developed because the organization felt a need to address the mental health crisis in young people and to look at the role of tech in that. She says, “We know that teens are growing up in a rapidly changing digital world, and the decline in mental health has definitely coincided with a steep increase in social media use. . . . Research has also shown that tech definitely can amplify the challenges that impact teens’ well-being.”
- A Common Sense Approach: Eisha shares, “We really believe at Common Sense that not all tech is bad, and that there is the good and the bad to tech, but we want to really approach it in a nuanced way and really help support responsible and healthy use.”
- Partners: Common Sense Media has developed these new materials in collaboration with the Center for Digital Thriving at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Together, they have created this new set of lessons for students in grades 6–12.
- Evidence-Based: Eisha says, “What’s really exciting and unique about these lessons is that they are rooted in evidence-based practices that are truly aimed at helping students develop the agency to reduce anxious thoughts and increase mindfulness around their media and tech use.”
- Design Tricks: People often blame themselves for being addicted to their devices. However, tech companies are intentionally adding features to capture our attention and play on our psychology. They use design elements like endless scrolling, autoplay videos, and social reciprocity, such as a social media “like” button. Helping students become aware of this is the first step in empowering them to take back control of their media usage.
- Thinking Traps: Eisha shares, “Thinking traps are really unhelpful, automatic thought patterns that when we leave them unchecked, they can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, and so another way these are often talked about is negative self-talk.” She points out, “Social media and tech are ripe for pulling us into those thinking traps, and these types of thinking are definitely amplified for adolescents.”
- Types of Traps: Thinking traps include strategies called mindreading and the “fallacy of should.” Mindreading involves making a conclusion of what you “think” someone else is thinking. The “fallacy of should” revolves around pondering alternative actions—”what I should have done.” These traps lead to self-doubt.
- Building Healthy Habits: Common Sense Media formed many of their lessons by asking, “What are some ways that you can kind of take ownership of your experience and build some of those healthy habits?” Again, using science based research, these lessons prompt students to choose something small and doable, refine it as needed, and work toward developing new healthy habits.
- Artificial Intelligence: Common Sense Media has also developed a series of seven lessons about artificial intelligence (AI). These lessons have been created to serve as an introduction to AI, explaining what it is and how it works. This focus on the basics has been intentional. Eisha says, “Once they have an understanding, only then, I feel like, can they actually then reflect thoughtfully on what are the potential impacts of using AI. Should I use it? Should I not? In what cases might it be okay? In what cases is it a little bit more worrisome?”
- More Than AI: Eisha says, “Understanding AI is a component [of digital citizenship], but we don’t want to lose all of the other elements that are so important, and we really just want to make sure that when we’re talking about digital citizenship, we’re talking about the current technology and those impacts.”
- Have the Conversation: Eisha leaves us with the importance of talking about these topics. She says that teachers don’t have to implement formal lessons. She adds, “Having the conversation, whatever it is, is really powerful.”
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- How would you describe the current state of student mental health?
- How would you describe student media and technology use?
- What do you currently know about Common Sense Media?
- What types of thinking traps do you see students falling into?
- What healthy technology habits would you like to help students develop?
- What strategies from this episode appeal to you?
- How does artificial intelligence fit into the conversation about digital well-being?
Extend Your Learning
- Everything You Need to Teach Digital Citizenship (Common Sense Education)
- Digital Well-Being: High School Lessons (Common Sense Education)
- Digital Well-Being: Middle School Lessons (Common Sense Education)
- AI Literacy Lessons for Grades 6–12 (Common Sense Education)
- Checkology (The News Literacy Project)
- Digital Citizenship in Education (ISTE)