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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Harness Your Students' Digital Smarts

Innovative teacher Vicki Davis leverages wikis, blogs, podcasts, virtual worlds, and other new media tools to connect students in rural Georgia to the world.

Harness Your Students' Digital Smarts (Transcript)

Voice Over: At a small school in rural south Georgia, teacher and IT director, Vickie Davis, uses every kind of technology to connect her students to the world.

Vicki Davis: And then you have to put a hyperlink to your Google doc, okay?

Vickie Davis: I blog at the Cool Cat Teacher blog, which has about six thousand readers. It just won the Edublog award for best teacher blog in the world this year. And I've traveled a bit, talking about what we're doing, but I teach full time. That's my focus.

What are some of the things that you have learned how to do that you think are very interesting?

I believe every student can learn, every child can learn, but where children have trouble is when you have only paper, and only pencil, then only certain types of children are going to succeed.

Who's the avatar team? Raise your hand. You? Okay, Tuesday, the avatar team is teaching.

I don’t have to be in front all the time. I need to look for rich experiences. I like to call myself a teacherpreneur. I'm looking at the students I have. I'm looking at their strengths, their interests, and I'm accomplishing the curriculum, but I'm customizing what happens in the classroom according to that group of students.

You have to click on object and change your X, Y and Z.

I focus on teaching them how to learn new software. Learning how to learn, using the Wiki, how to blog effectively, collaborating effectively, being very comfortable with just about any technology.

On our class Wiki-- everybody remember where our Wiki is?-- you're going to go to the class Wiki and make sure that I have a link to your Google doc and you--

It's a lotta times I use new terms, and I expect them to Google it and look it up. That's a literacy-- you know, how do I find new terms and look it up? I don't have to define everything and I shouldn't.

The Google doc, okay?

They should be thinkers. Have you all brainstormed some ways? You have about another minute and a half or two. You all brainstorm some ways that you can use this to teach digital citizenship.

Voice Over: In this class, students are learning a virtual life program called Open Sim by helping to teach it.

Student 1: So you're all allowed to come to me.

Vickie Davis: So many teachers think that, I need to know everything before I teach it, and that is absolutely the wrong thing to think. Because you think about the empowerment these students have when they find out and they figure it out.

Student 1: Pull up your mini--

Vickie Davis: Look at what they did in three days. They changed their avatars. They learned to terraform. I did not teach the terraforming group how to terraform. They were teaching me. I literally didn't know how to terraform until today. It's just phenomenal.

Voice Over: Davis and Julie Lindsey, a teacher in Qatar, founded the global collaborative project, Digi Teen. Students from around the world studied digital citizenship by researching, writing and posting their work through two digital portals. On the Digi Teen Wiki, students post their research and writings on assigned topics.

Vickie Davis: And you all, I don't mind if you grab the information off of there to link--

Voice Over: And on the Digi Teen social network, teachers and students connect, blog and share ideas.

Virginia: The most recent blog I'm very proud of is the rights and responsibilities blog that I did with like so many people from around the world on Digi Teen.

Voice Over: Davis and Lindsey also created the Flat Classroom project.

Vickie Davis: The Flat Classroom project lets the students study and experience the trends in information technology, by collaboratively writing reports with other students and creating videos where they have to outsource part of it to the other students, so they experience the trends and learn about the trends with students all over the world.

Voice Over: In January, 2009, Davis and several of her students traveled to the Middle East to attend the Flat Classroom Conference.

Betty Shiver: We're in a rural setting. I mean, we're in south Georgia, about as rural as you can get, but yet, she has got us connected to the world, and she has got our children, who are basically rural children, with a whole new perspective of possibilities, of what's out there.

Vickie Davis: I believe this whole idea of sorta turning school upside down and empowering students to share with one another. If you can empower them, you're just going to have a better classroom.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Carl Bidleman

Coordinating Producer

  • Lauren Rosenfeld


  • Christa Collins

Camera Crew

  • Patrick Gregory
  • Dale Gray
  • Matt Johnson
  • Carl Bidleman

Production Support

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely


  • Michael Pritchard

Senior Video Editor

  • Karen Sutherland

Executive Producer

  • Ken Ellis


Avatar: A term that refers to the digital representation of a user of any virtual world, computer game, or any other Internet-based online community.

Terraform: To modify an environment to make it habitable and more like Earth.

Wiki: A page or collection of Web pages designed to enable any user to contribute or modify content.

Digital citizenship: A concept that helps teachers, school technology leaders, and parents understand what students should know to use technology appropriately.

OpenSimulator (OpenSim): An open source server platform for hosting virtual worlds.

Sources: AliceChristie.org, Twinity.org, Wikipedia.org

Discussion Questions

1. How does Davis's use of digital media helps kids "learn how to learn?"

2. What does Davis mean when she talks about empowerment? How can you empower students in school and at home?

3. Do you think it's important for kids to collaborate with the other students across the world? Why, or why not?

4. Davis didn't let her rural location keep her from getting students connected to the world. What sort of challenges would your school community need to make international collaboration an integral part of your curriculum?

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