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Test-Drive Social Media for Digital Citizenship

A new way for youth to learn digital citizenship and digital literacy skills.

Cornell PRYDE
Students try out Social Media TestDrive.
Source: Cornell PRYDE

It shouldn't come as a surprise that teenagers are highly engaged with social media. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 95% of teens in the U. S. report having access to a smartphone and 45% say they are online almost constantly. But how do we prepare teens to become prosocial, productive members of the digital world before they enter it?

Back in 2018, we posted about the importance of social media education for youth and a new tool called Social Media TestDrive. Since then, our team of researchers at Cornell University's Social Media Lab has been collaborating with digital citizenship education experts at Common Sense Education to update the tool and make it available to classrooms, informal learning settings, and homes nationwide.

For those who are not familiar with our tool, Social Media TestDrive is an educational program for teaching digital citizenship skills and online prosocial behaviors. Like a driving simulator for young people learning to drive a car for the first time, TestDrive provides a simulated experience of realistic digital dilemmas and scenarios that young people may encounter as they enter the social media world. As such, TestDrive is for middle school-aged youth (ages 9-13) who are new to or not yet engaged with social media, but may enter into the social media world in the near future. Each TestDrive module is designed to teach a specific social media skill, such as managing privacy settings, smart self-presentation, upstanding to cyberbullying, and news literacy.

TestDrive looks and feels like a real social media site, but all the content on the site has been created for instructional purposes. Young people interact with the content through instructions that lead them to build new knowledge and skills, allowing them to practice important social media skills without worrying about negative consequences.

In a big shift from the initial prototype, all TestDrive modules are now self-guided and support individual learning with no outside facilitation necessary. This means that youth can complete a TestDrive module on their own or in small groups. Each TestDrive module consists of four parts:

  1. Key concepts, where learners are exposed to key terms, ideas, and behaviors related to the topic of the module.
  2. Guided interaction with key concepts, where learners practice behaviors by following instructions.
  3. A "free play" area, where learners engage with a realistic social media simulation to practice their new knowledge and skills.
  4. Reflection, where learners answer questions designed to help them reflect on what they learned and how they can apply their learning in real life.

This means that youth are not just passively learning about new digital citizenship concepts, but are able to practice what they have learned in multiple sections of the module. One of the things that makes TestDrive unique is its theoretical underpinnings for instruction. The development of TestDrive was informed by Kolb's experiential learning theory and Bandura's social learning theory. Moving away from a passive, didactic learning model, the use of a social media simulation in TestDrive facilitates experiential learning.

Young people are exposed to concrete, hands-on experiences in a simulated environment, followed by a reflection on those experiences, which builds skills that can be used when they eventually join real social media sites. Social learning theory suggests that learning occurs when people observe and imitate others' behaviors. This occurs in a TestDrive module when youth are shown examples of prosocial behaviors and instructed to practice performing the modeled behaviors. To learn more about our theoretical background, you can read our paper that was published in the Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference.

This August, we are excited to announce a nationwide launch of Social Media TestDrive alongside Common Sense Education's new Digital Citizenship Curriculum. Six TestDrive modules have been linked as extension activities to the corresponding Common Sense lessons and are available for use by schools all around the United States. For more information and access to TestDrive modules, please visit

Social Media TestDrive has already been successfully piloted and tested with more than 500 students nationwide. Educators and youth have given us positive feedback including how TestDrive is engaging, starts good conversations, and covers topics relevant to today's youth. One afterschool educator in New York State told us that the students found TestDrive very interesting and that "it covers terms that they [students] are hearing and using." An eighth-grade teacher remarked that "They [the students] stayed connected to it. [...] The interactivity of it was engaging to them and made a difference." Young people enjoy using TestDrive as well. A sixth grader told us that TestDrive modules were "really interesting and fun," saying that they enjoyed being able to read, comment, and like posts as you would on a real social media site. We are encouraged by these positive comments and excited to hear more from our users during our nationwide launch.

Cornell Social Media Lab
Social Media TestDrive logo.
Source: Cornell Social Media Lab

Social Media TestDrive is generously supported by Becky and Jim Morgan and the National Science Foundation.

This post was co-authored by Dr. Yoon Hyung Choi, Annika Pinch, and Dr. Natalie Bazarova.


DiFranzo, D., Choi, Y. H., Purington, A., Taft, J. G., Whitlock, J. & Bazarova, N. N. (2019). Social Media TestDrive: Real world social media education for the next generation. Proceedings of The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Glasgow, UK.

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