Teaching virtue in the digital age

Writing for the Fordham Foundation, Jennifer Frey recently argued the case for teaching cyber-wisdom and reviewed a new curriculum that seeks to do just that. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

Practical wisdom generally is the habit of mind that allows one to make good practical judgments in the circumstances of her everyday life. Cyber-wisdom is the ability to make good judgments in the novel social circumstances we encounter online. The cultivation of this virtue is critical to taking advantage of the unique opportunities afforded us in online spaces, while minimizing online risks and dangers. Since this virtue takes time to develop, instruction in navigating online spaces should begin in middle school at the latest and continue through graduation.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, which focuses on virtue education generally, has provided educators with an initial set of resources and a sample curriculum for teaching cyber-wisdom in our schools. In addition to reinforcing the virtue ethics vocabulary and conceptual framework that is the basis of any lesson in a specific virtue, Jubilee’s cyber-wisdom lessons focus on working through real-life scenarios that students are likely to encounter (or to have encountered) online: instances of bullying, threats to the physical or personal safety of oneself or one’s peers, examples of various behaviors that need to be reported to the relevant authorities, etc. The scenario in a lesson might present the student with a moral dilemma, a social problem, or a threat to their well-being. The questions that follow ask students to reflect about what virtues were displayed or lacking and what the appropriate course of action would be. There are also guided questions for discussion and journal reflection, typically asking students to explain what they would do in a given scenario and to justify their action (or inaction). These exercises reinforce virtue concepts by making explicit how they manifest themselves in practice online.

In addition to helping students think through various realistic scenarios, some lessons are more imaginative and focus on the construction of what an ideal online social world would be like. For example, in one lesson, students are asked to identify a digital exemplar—a person whose behavior online they admire and seek to imitate. This is a critical lesson that reinforces the fact that we all rely on exemplars in our practical lives, and we need digital exemplars who model what social flourishing online looks like. Lessons on exemplars invite students to reflect on who they admire and why, which will make them articulate and defend their values and their vision of how social life looks when it is functioning well in online spaces. These lessons also afford schools an excellent opportunity to reflect on their own expectations for their students—and to communicate clear guidelines about online behaviors, such as social threats and bullying.

For more, see: https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/teaching-virtue-digital-age