Virginia Schools to Offer Social Media Education Program

January 19, 2012

Virginia's schools will offer a new digital education program that will encourage students to use technology and social media safely and responsibly.

Gov. Bob McDonnell and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner appeared at a news conference Thursday to introduce the program, "My Digital Life." The 3.5-hour course for students in the eighth and ninth grades will include such topics as cyber bullying, good texting practices and online research.

Technology has revolutionized the way young people learn and communicate, but the abuse of technology includes Internet fraud, security breaches and cyber bullying — making it important that students learn about their proper use, McDonnell said.

"My Digital Life" is a joint effort by northern Virginia technology company Neustar and digital education platform provider EverFi. Company officials say they'll provide the program at no cost to the state or local school divisions, who can opt whether to use the program as part of educating students about digital literacy and Internet safety.

EverFi chief executive Tom Davidson estimated the cost of providing the curriculum at "well north of $1 million." Under the program, students can use customized activities and gaming scenarios that include creating a blog and working to resolve problems that arise form cyber bullying. Teachers also will be able to assess how much students are learning.

Warner, D-Va., said that his interest in the issue stems from the fact that he's both a policy maker dealing with issues including online piracy and free speech as well as a father.

He recalled that about eight years ago, during his time as Virginia's governor, his then- eighth- and ninth-grade daughters logged on to MySpace and he realized "it was a brave new world."

McDonnell said that the initiative dovetails with his push to encourage students to pursue coursework and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM for short. He also said it's also an extension of school internet safety education he had advocated during his time as the state's attorney general.

Lisa Hook, chief executive of Neustar, also said that "My Digital Life" will help students become comfortable with technology and use their skills to pursue future work in the STEM fields. Neustar, headquartered in Sterling, employs 700 workers in northern Virginia.

Henrico County Schools Superintendent Patrick Russo said that about 25,000 students in his district have school-issued laptops, and despite efforts to prevent such problems, students have engaged in cyber bullying. They need to take responsibility in how they use social media and technology, and also realize "whatever they put online becomes a matter of record."

Neustar and EverFi introduced the program last week in Kentucky, and company officials said eight school districts so far have adopted it.

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