Digital Citizenship ‘it takes a village’

January 31, 2021

Coby Reynolds discusses why we all have a collective responsibility to teach digital citizenship and provides lots of useful tips to get started.

Digital Citizenship ‘it takes a village’ - photo by Jessica Lewis

The term digital citizen has dramatically evolved in the past decade, and now students even as young as 5 are using online tools and software to communicate and collaborate online.  In a technology reliant society where does this fit within our curriculum? Technology is advancing at exponential rates that most people, let alone educators, are struggling to keep up. So where does that leave us with teaching students about the appropriate use of technology? What does appropriate use mean? Whose job should it be to teach Digital Citizenship?

Too often we see misuse or inappropriate use of technology. Whether it is scrolling through your socials or catching up on the latest world news, oversharing, racist comments and the lack of understanding regarding personal security is clearly evident. I have found myself ‘block’ or ‘remove’ these so called oversharers on social media for inappropriate comments. But consider for a moment that many of these people have never been ‘taught’ what it means to be a digital citizen and the responsibility that comes with that. So where does this leave us with students in our classrooms?

DigCit shouldn’t be taught in isolation

The most common mistake is that DigCit is taught as that once off lesson or unit at the beginning of the year, if taught at all. This is like setting classroom rules on day 1 and completely forgetting them the next. Context for DigCit is key, as is for most new concepts, it allows students to engage in learning aspects of DigCit as required. For example when creating a video for a science class, students could learn about image privacy and video content, as well as the use of copyrighted material. Or when registering for a new online website, what does it mean to have a ‘complex’ password. These taught in context provide students with a deeper understanding of what it means to be a positive digital citizen and is more relatable to the real world.

Choose a model of DigCit for your community

Providing a model of DigCit that works for your school community is pivotal. A commonly used DigCit language across the whole school is very important as this allows teachers, students and parents alike to all understand and relate to. A common language helps all stakeholders to be more comfortable in not only teaching but also modelling this type of positive behavior with technology. I personally like the ISTE New Digital Citizenship Model which offers 3 spheres of DigCit, Digital Agent, Digital Interactor and Digital Self. This is used across the whole school at all year levels and is taught in varied complexities to accommodate.

ISTE New Digital Citizenship Model

Your RUP or AUP should be focused on positive elements of technology

Many technology use policies (RUP, AUP’s) which are framed around the DON’Ts regarding technology use at school. This conversation needs to be reframed into positive elements. Remembering our students find it difficult to know what is, or isn’t, appropriate at the best of times, let alone when using tech. Statements like ‘I am an empathetic and positive user of online forums’ is much better than ‘do not use chat functions at school’ for example. This type of wording allows students with clear positive expectations of the type of behaviour that creates safe online experiences.

‘It takes a village’ to teach DigCit

A commonly coined term ‘it takes a village’ to get something done applies more than ever here. The importance of DigCit being positively modelled in aspects student life is imperative to their understanding and learning. Engaging your parent community in your chosen model and educating them on what DigCit means is just as important as teaching your students. At home, parents are key role models in the way they interact with their devices and being online. Setting clear expectations and guidelines that reflect your school environment will create a positive community of positive DigCit.

Here are some of my favourite ‘go to’ resources for teaching and learning DigCit.

CommonSense Media – https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship

A plethora or resources for teachers, students and parents. Most commonly known for their great sequenced DigCit curriculum and lesson plans that can be integrated into almost any classroom. They also have an amazing e-newsletter that if you are not already receiving, get across and subscribe to that right away. They have separate educators and parent newsletters – I subscribe to both.

ISTE – New Digital Citizenship – https://www.iste.org/explore/Digital-citizenship/The-New-Digital-Citizenship%3A-Empower-Proactive-Digital-Learners-%5BClassroom-poster%5D

A fantastic model of DigCit to use at your school. It is clear and concise and will provide a great foundation to your re-work of DigCit within your community.

Google Interland – https://beinternetawesome.withgoogle.com/en_us/interland

A fun series of 4 game-based learning activities for upper primary school students to learn about aspects of password protection, over sharing, and standing up against online bullies with the superpower of kindness. This coupled with some of the CommonSense Media lessons will lead you on your way to providing your students with some great learning opportunities.

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