Why Teach Digital Citizenship?

Earlier in the course we discussed what the future might look like for our students. You can find my post about it here. It is obvious that the world is changing for our kids and we, as parents and teachers, must change with it. I have to admit, prior to taking this course, I hadn’t thought much about the concept of digital citizenship/identity or the “how to” phenomenon of teaching media literacy. Perhaps this is because it wasn’t taught to me when I was a student.

Needless to say, this course has taught me a great deal so far. It is now very obvious to me that digital citizenship must be taught in schools and as I reflect on my experience with media literacy and especially social media, I see gaps in my learning that could have been filled by adults (if only they’d known!)

Because the world in which our students are growing up in is (typically) filled with technology and information like has never been seen before, students require adult support to navigate this ever-changing world. Teachers and parents have equal responsibility when it comes to educating students about digital citizenship.

The Google Digital Citizenship Educator Training Course explains that: “It’s not always possible for teachers to completely protect their students, but teaching them how to handle difficult situations online is something that every teacher can do in their classroom. You can foster open and honest conversations with your students, and teach them strategies for getting help and support”. It is not coincidental that the first module of this course (which I have taken!) discusses why teachers should be teaching about digital citizenship. Of course, teaching about privacy isn’t the only benefit of teaching digital citizenship.

According to the ISTE Standards for Educators, teachers take on several roles when it comes to teaching about digital citizenship: learner, leader, citizenship, collaborator, designer, facilitator and analyst. Each one of these standards has a dropdown menu of indicators which clearly explain how educators can take action with each of these roles. This is definitely worth a look if you haven’t checked it out yet. It is not surprising that “Learner” is the first standard. If you don’t know about digital citizenship and media literacy, how are you to teach about it?

As far as I am aware, there are no current practices in place in my school for teaching about digital citizenship and media literacy. It is not mandated. In fact, this topic has never been brought up and I would suggest many teachers don’t really know about it. However, I have found many outcomes and indicators in which digital citizenship and media literacy can be layered into.

The Digital Citizenship in Saskatchewan Schools document indicates that it was created in response to an action plan to address bullying and cyberbullying in Saskatchewan: capture

These actions are cited as to how this recommendation can be carried out: Capture1

The Digital Citizenship in Saskatchewan Schools document outlines the importance of teaching digital citizenship. First, school reactions to kids being online is outdated. While it once made sense (when access was more limited) to restrict students from being online and using their devices, this format is no longer appropriate (it reminds me a bit of book banning!) The second reason it is important to teach digital citizenship is because of a misunderstanding about “digital natives”. Just because a child is born into the Digital Age, doesn’t make them an expert at navigating the online world or more adept at using technology than the previous generation. Just like any other subject, students need a guide.

Teachers and parents have a big role to play when it comes to  education about digital citizenship. For me, this education has already begun in my classroom as part of my major project. We are working on using the Seesaw app but the pre-requisite to this is learning about being responsible digital citizens. Students began using the app with very restricted capabilities and as they learn more about being responsibile digital citizens, their restrictions become less and less. One example of this is that once the students learn about how to post thoughtful comments, their “like” and “comment” abilities will be opened up on the app. This plays into the role of teaching about empathy in the online world that I think is so important: the most important skill in the digital age.

Finally, I return to the point of the educator as a learner. In our Zoom session this week, we met with STF President Pat Maze. One important item that was brought up was this poster:

Capture

I know this poster is posted in many staff rooms in my school division. It is of course, increasingly important that teachers be aware of their own digital identity, how they conduct themselves on the web and with student information in their possession. We must look at our own practices before we can teach digital citizenship to others.

There has been much hype about these topics lately including articles in the news about teachers and other professionals in highly scrutinized positions following online behaviour. These articles can be found in recent news searches across North America and Europe. Some of this behaviour deserves scrutiny while others are more questionable, in my opinion. There seems to be a fear-mongering going on which is problematic for me. Each time I hear another story about this topic, I wonder who holds the interest of the teacher in the situation? Who has their back? On some level, digital forgiveness should be afforded in the same way for all when scrutinizing questionable posts and behaviour. Katia and Alec’s blog post highlights 5 key elements that should be addressed before many quick decisions about consequences: content/audience matters, intent matters, history matters, authorship matters, and empathy matters.

If empathy is the most important skill in the digital age, we must practice what we preach and use empathy towards our students and colleagues before jumping to conclusions and make judgments about character.

We all have a role to play in the education of our students towards being more responsible digital citizens and that journey starts with a reflection of, learning about and empathy towards ourselves.

Feedback is welcomed.

 

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