What is Digital Citizenship?

Creating awareness of what students are creating and doing online.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Davis

CREDIT GoEnnounceDigital citizenship is a hot topic amongst educators and district leaders these days. In the last few years, many districts, specifically those who’ve implemented 1-to-1 or BYOD policies, are being increasingly mandated to incorporate digital citizenship lessons into their curricula. But what exactly is digital citizenship? As an educator how are you supposed to combine all of the potential lessons around teaching a student how to use technology appropriately and be a responsible, safe, digital citizen on the internet, into one class?

As one of the founders of a social, e-portfolio tool for students, I first heard the term digital citizenship three ago at an ISTE conference. Teachers were approaching us asking if we had lesson plans to use our platform to teach digital citizenship. I remember thinking, digital citizenship?!? That’s something you teach kids in school? Being three years ago, let me stress that these teachers were the amazing early adopters bringing technology and social media to the classroom. Early on, they recognized how important it is to prepare students for a future where technology is everywhere and educate students how to navigate the internet, using it as a positive tool.

Digital Citizenship needs to be embraced by educators as a way of thinking—and incorporated, whenever possible, into any type of existing curriculum.

These same teachers were getting reprimanded from their districts for bringing social networks such as Facebook or Twitter into the classroom because they were “unsafe”, and saw our platform as an ideal alternative to incorporate digital citizenship lessons around teaching students how to build a positive social profile. They liked that it was an academic based, social platform where students, teachers, and others following a students’ updates, could engage publicly and safely.

So needless to say, as I said, ‘Yes, of course our platform can be used to teach digital citizenship’, I needed to completely understand what this meant. As I began my research, I was a bit overwhelmed. How can one curriculum incorporate everything from cyber bullying to digital commerce? A lot is lumped into the 9 elements of “Digital Citizenship”, as defined by Mike Ribble, author of Raising a Digital Child, one of the godfathers of Digital Citizenship at the forefront of leading education around these concepts in schools.

But as I started to think about it, Digital Citizenship education as a whole just made sense. It’s basically the same as teaching a student to be a good citizen. The digital world is a lot like the regular world and the same manners and rules need to apply. Would you let a child go into a store for the first time to purchase something without educating them on if they need change back or not? Or let them walk home from the bus stop alone without warning them about strangers? In comparison, we can’t leave students alone and think they will just “figure” the internet out.

We need to think of technology and the internet as the modern day playground. Both parents and educators should work together to prepare students for the digital world, just as they work together to prepare students for their future. There’s no difference. Whether it’s in college or their career—technology, the internet, and social media are tools students will be utilizing every day.

But just as parents and teachers can’t possibly cover every life lesson for every possible real-world situation, educators can’t be expected to teach Digital Citizenship in one class, 10 classes, or a semester. Digital Citizenship needs to be embraced by educators as a way of thinking—and incorporated, whenever possible, into any type of existing curriculum.

As a company, we now offer a software and curriculum package for schools to teach students about social media and building a positive digital footprint. We provide a personalized learning network toolempowering students to build their digital pathway, safely, for college or the world of work. While I think our curriculum is pretty awesome and it is aligned to CCSS ELA Anchor Standards and ISTE Standards, I don’t think this is the end-all and be-all of Digital Citizenship education for students. Instead of thinking of Digital Citizenship as a one time class, or group of lessons, educators should find ways to incorporate Digital Citizenship lessons and examples into every classroom. 

To help, here are the nine themes that define Digital Citizenship, according to Mike Ribble, and examples of how these rules of the digital road can apply to multiple classrooms:

  1. Digital Access – The principle that not everyone has equal access to technology.  

Example Lesson: In a social studies class, look at third world countries and cultures that struggle with access to technology. Investigate some of the initiatives being done to provide access to technology. Analyze if and how it is making a difference to better the society.

  1. Digital Commerce – Buying and selling goods online safely.

Example Lesson: In a math or personal finance class, breakdown the fees associated with opening a store on Etsy and selling something. Analyze how you know, from Etsy’s privacy policy, where your funds are being held after making a sale and how they are dispersed to you.

  1. Digital Communication – Sharing information online properly and safely.

Example Lesson: In an English class, have students differentiate between forms of communication that are acceptable to use when reaching out to a teacher: phone call vs. text message vs. email vs. twitter vs. in person office hours. Advise on how you would address each form of communication (proper way to leave a voicemail & compose a formal email) and illustrate acceptable times of use for each communication method.

  1. Digital LiteracyOngoing education on how to use digital technologies.

Example Lesson: In a computer class, look at how technology around “chat rooms” has evolved. Analyze the difference between the early days of something like AOL Instant Messenger to current video conferencing tools such as Google Hangout. Understand the precautions users need to be aware of to be safe in each setting.

  1. Digital Etiquette – Using technology following a respectable code of conduct. 

Example Lesson: In a media class, have an interactive discussion about students’ favorite forms of social media. Ask them to give anonymous examples of how they have seen someone use social media to be hurtful, either in real life or in the news. Discuss the effects this could have had on the individual who was the victim of the social media incident. Have the students counter this by sharing examples of students using social media positively (either in real life or in the news), in a way that if a college admissions officer or employer saw this they would get a great impression of the student.

  1. Digital Law – The lawful use of technology & content found online.

Example Lesson: In a middle school history class, have students document their findings of a certain historical event using information found from various online outlets such as a blog, a newspaper, and a YouTube video. Have them analyze the way the various media outlets source their findings and describe any unethical, unsourced reporting or undocumented findings.

  1. Digital Rights & Responsibilities – You have freedom on the Internet but also a responsibility to act responsibly.

Example Lesson: In an elementary art class, give students a drawing of a foot. Using permanent markers, ask them to draw apps or list ways they use the Internet within the foot. Discuss the drawings with the students and explain that everything they do from videos they watch, to things they search for, to comments they make, all leave a mark, that’s permanent. Explain how the paper footprint represents our digital footprint and how it’s important to be sure to leave a positive digital footprint.

  1. Digital Health & Wellness – Physical & psychological well-being in a digital world.

Example Lesson: In a physical education class, use a digital fitness-tracking tool such as a Fit Bit or GPS distance tracker. Analyze how the offline activity is what’s increasing an individual’s physical well – being but look at how the digital tool can assist in maximizing these benefits. Stress that it’s about finding a balance between online and offline activities for increased well being.

  1. Digital Security – Protect your safety online. 

Example Lesson: In a reading class, ask your students their favorite forms of social media. Read the privacy polices and terms of use of the top two, as a group. Discuss what these mean.

As you incorporate Digital Citizenship lessons it’s important to remember: just like we can’t prepare every student for every incident they will ever encounter in their real life, we won’t ever be able to teach them how to act in every situation they encounter online. It’s about instilling a “conscious” if you will, and a basic understanding of right and wrong, so they are safe and respectful of creating a positive online identity.

Melissa Davis is co-founder and CEO of GoEnnounce, an academic based, social platform where students, teachers, and others following a students’ updates, can engage publicly and safely; students build their digital legacy in a safe social environment. Their Student Page also becomes an application resource when they apply for colleges, scholarships, and jobs. Write to: melissa@goennounce.com

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