Photo of Upstanders, Not Bystanders - Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi

Upstanders, Not Bystanders - Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi

By Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi




“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret Mead

In our work as the co-curators of the Digital ID project (, we have found that student voice and the power of story, taken beyond the classroom walls through technology, can spark transformative change in students’ understanding of what it means to be a (digital) citizen.

Biographical Information:

Gail Desler is a technology coach for the Elk Grove Unified School District and focuses on promoting digital literacy and digital citizenship with K-12 students and staff.

Natalie Bernasconi, Ed.D, is a middle school ELA/ELL/ AVID teacher for the Salinas Union High School District and a UC Santa Cruz instructor.


We knew from the start that we wanted a very broad representation of both ordinary and extraordinary people whose courage in crossing the line from bystander to upstander has made a difference. To ensure easy entry points for teachers, we created separate slides for elementary, middle, and high school students, plus adults (1st slide) - but with the invitation that everyone is welcome to respond to others’ comments across grade levels and generations.


The project was initially sparked by the California Writing Project’s May 2013 initiative Upstanders, Not Bystanders. We knew that our contribution had to include student voice. What better platform than VoiceThread?! Teaching students the role of the upstander is a first step in eliminating bullying because rarely, if ever, are bullying incidents limited solely to a bully and a victim. A major goal of the Upstanders, Not Bystanders project is to showcase stories of those who have confronted injustice and cruelty. These stories have the potential to create an interactive model that empowers students to step up, speak out, and be agents of change in all the communities to which they belong, both online and face-to-face.


A second benefit of the Upstanders, Not Bystanders VoiceThread is to address state and federal requirements as well as curriculum standards. For educators seeking to meet the 2012 CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) e-Rate requirements ( “to educate minors about appropriate online behavior, including online interaction with other individuals in social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response,” for instance, this VoiceThread challenges all forms of bullying and also offers teachers opportunities to guide students in protecting online privacy and in building a positive digital footprint. For example, we recommend that elementary students publish with an avatar instead of a photo and by first name only. For middle school students, we recommend sticking with an avatar and using first name + last name initial. For high school students, to ensure that they “Google well" when prospective employers or scholarship committees run background checks, we recommend using full name, and, if they wish, a photograph.

In addition to meeting legal imperatives, the Upstanders, Not Bystanders project also complements the work of digital citizenship champions Jason Ohler ( and Mike Ribble ( and, accordingly, aligns with the ISTE Standards on Digital Citizenship (, both for Students (S #5) - “Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior” - and for Teachers (T #4) - “Develop and model cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital age communication and collaboration tools.”

Lastly, and also central to our purpose, we wanted the Upstanders, Not Bystanders project to align with the Common Core Writing Goals for State Standards ( for college readiness, which recognize the value of students being able “to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening….and “to evaluate other points of view critically and constructively,” so that they can “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions… with diverse partners…building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly,“ leading to the capacity to “produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.” We recognize that in providing students with a global microphone for putting their college (and career) readiness skills into practice, they are also becoming “community ready,“ an essential skill for digital and global citizens.


We used each of the slides originally as part of PowerPoint presentation for a statewide writing conference. We ended our session feeling that we needed to extend the conversation to a broader audience, one that included students. Being able to upload a PowerPoint directly into VoiceThread helped jumpstart the Upstanders, Not Bystanders project.

Having created the VoiceThread, we really appreciated being able to seamlessly embed it in the Digital ID wiki (

After publishing the project, we found an easy way to help those who are new to VoiceThread contribute was to connect with them via Skype or Google+ Hangout. This way, not only could we talk them through the process and options, but they could also share their screens with us, allowing us to provide timely step-by-step assistance.


We would encourage teachers to never underestimate the power of student voice and story.

To ensure that student voices extend beyond the walls of the classroom, whatever the VoiceThread topic might be, we also recommend connecting and collaborating with other classrooms or organizations. Thanks to our partnerships with Common Sense Media ( and the California Writing Project (, we are thrilled that the Upstanders, Not Bystanders VoiceThread will be featured as part of California’s second annual Digital Citizenship Month events ( .

The Digital ID project ( would be happy to showcase other VoiceThread projects that connect to issues of digital citizenship.