- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Everything that students now do is “Googable,” according to Heather Callihan, the technology integration specialist for Northwest Public Schools.

“Googable” is not a word that is going to be found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but it is an apt term for today’s digital age. Callihan uses the word to emphasize to both students and parents just how important it is to be a good digital citizen.

She has her own definition of what good digital citizenship means.

“What I try to do is to talk to kids about how everything they do online is building their online presence and we need to be thinking about that because we’re all Googable,” Callihan said. “I tell kids that I want to think about this when you’re posting, when you’re sharing and when they’re sending because everything is permanent and that at some point in life, you will be Google-searched.”

“You’re building your digital résumé,” she said.

Callihan said students need to think how they look online when they are Google-searched because they are applying for a college scholarship, or they want to play on an athletic team in college. She said students should think about whether a coach who has Google-searched them is going to say, “Hey, I want you to come play for my team” and whether a person deciding on a college scholarship is going to think, “You’re going to represent my school in a positive way.”

“They can tell that by your tweets, your postings, your pictures, your language,” Callihan said. She noted that later in life a potential employer will do a Google search. If a person had demonstrated good digital citizenship, that employer is more likely to say, “I want you to come work for me.”

Callihan said she believes that having no digital presence at all can be just as harmful as having tweets or posts that might put a young person in a bad light. She compares it to a person who is applying for a loan. If that person has no credit history at all, he or she may have just as difficulty in securing the loan as the person who has bad credit.

The Grand Island Independent reports (https://bit.ly/1QhNZ3J ) she noted that a college admissions official or potential employer who does a Google search of a person and finds no online presence at all may believe a young person has tried to delete or erase the Internet to hide potentially harmful material to their college or job prospects.

Being a good digital citizen is something that Callihan preaches not only to Northwest students, parents and staff, it is something she also preaches near and wide at other schools. Callihan has talked at Walnut Middle School for example.

Amanda Skalka, the curriculum assessment and instruction director at South Central School District No. 5. She said that each year, the school district requires all middle school and high school parents to come to a digital roll-out night to hear a presentation, which changes each year. “We talk about digital citizenship and how to take care of your laptop,” she said. “At this point, they’ve heard about how to take care of your laptop for a couple of years so we wanted to put the emphasis on the digital citizenship piece.”

“Heather came in and did the same presentation at three different locations for us,” Skalka said. Those locations were Sandy Creek Middle School, Sandy Creek High School and Lawrence-Nelson Middle School and High School, which is in one building.

Skalka said Callihan was recommended by Jackie Ediger, an ESU 9 professional development director who works with the school district and who is also on the Nebraska Educational Technology Association board of directors, along with Callihan, who has been on the NETA board for three years. Skalka said she saw all three of Callihan’s presentations.

“She did a fantastic job,” Skalka said. “She opened the eyes of parents and students, which was fantastic to have them in the same room at the same time hearing the same message.” Skalka said that in some ways, students and parents can be two different audiences. She said it is important for both audiences to hear the same message.

Skalka said Callihan made parents realize that it is O.K. if they don’t know the specific technology their children are using and how to use. However, Skalka said Callihan told parents, “You need to ask your child these questions on a regular basis.” Parents were also advised to actually view what their children are doing online.

While Callihan stresses being a good digital citizen, that is not the totality of her job for Northwest Public Schools. As technology integration specialist for the district, a big part of Callihan’s job is working with teachers on how to use technology when delivering curriculum to students.

She said that means keeping priorities straight. Callihan said the first thing teachers must think about is the learning goal they want their children to achieve. Only then, should they think about whether they can use technology to help students meet that goal. Callihan also stresses to teachers that they should “date” technology, not “get married to it.”

That’s because technology changes. That’s evident even at Northwest, which started off with all high school students using iPads and now has switched to having those students using Chromebooks. Callihan said her job encompasses K-12, which means she works with students and staff at the high school, Cedar Hollow, District 1R, St. Libory and Chapman.

Northwest Superintendent Matt Fisher said schools officials did not really consider hiring anybody but Callihan for the job of technology integration specialist, when it was created three years ago. He said Callihan was already teaching technology at Cedar Hollow, so they knew what they had.

Callihan, though, said she cannot do her job by herself. That means she works with administrators, especially curriculum coordinator Jeanette Ramsey, as well as with teachers, especially with a 12-member tech team that is spread among teachers in different curriculum areas and in grades from K to 12.

“I work with great people here,” Callihan said. “They make my job easy. They make my job fun. They make my job rewarding…They make me laugh, they make me cry, they challenge me.”

It was not foreordained that Callihan would work in the technology part of education. A graduate of Grand Island Central Catholic, she began her career as a first-grade teacher in Bellevue. However, she got a degree in technology instruction. So Callihan decided to apply for the job as a technology instructor at Cedar Hollow, even though she saw no reason to leave Bellevue, where she really loved teaching.

But she got the job and sold her Bellevue residence in a few days. Grand Island is where she met her husband, Scott, and now they have two children. So today, Callihan says her return to Grand Island “was meant to be.”


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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