Now more than ever, it is essential that students understand the importance of digital citizenship. It’s part of being career-ready. It’s part of utilizing tools like the internet effectively for education. And it’s part of understanding the boundaries of recreational use.
What is digital citizenship?
Being a good digital citizen means understanding the responsibilities associated with technology, particularly the internet, but also how it all applies to computers and devices in general.
What does it cover?
I think our first thought is cyber safety. But digital citizenship is so much more than that. It’s also how students use the internet to find help for school. It’s how they interact when searching for a job or emailing professionally. It’s what they post to social media. It’s knowing when it is appropriate to use technology (digital wellness). And it’s knowing how to show empathy when behaving online.
Why is it important?
We are absolutely in a world where access to technology is more of a need than a want. This was even more important in 2020. Our students do homework, turn in papers, look up resources, find the news, socialize, and seek entertainment via their technology access. Students will apply to jobs and colleges online. They’ll work jobs with Zoom calls and emails. They’ll comment on posts. Post photos. Technology is embedded in every aspect of our lives.
Teaching digital citizenship.
This is multi-faceted. Students will exchange and be involved with so many digital conversations within a day. The text and comment and write and read all of these interactions. Students would do well to understand the empathy needed in these exchanges. Discuss how connotation isn’t always clear when reading. You can come up with examples of how students can respond to different types of posts (or discuss if one should respond, period). You can also point out the difference in recreational use vs professional use, and how the words you type are there forever. This would also be a good place to discuss cyberbullying, and where the line is between “expressing an opinion” and being outright hurtful.
Students need to know how to distinguish accurate information from misinformation. This often is covered when students first begin looking up sources for essays, but it is a skill they need to know how to use in their personal lives as well. Students should have frequent practice with digital literacy because it’s really quite tough to learn discernment skills. This includes knowing the basics of data information and scams to look for.
To me, this is a biggie. We basically have technology on our persons 24/7. Discuss with students the importance of “unplugging”. Find articles about brain development and screen times. Debate how social skills are affected by technology. Students would do well to understand we need to take a break and now over-indulge.
There can be a lot of over-sharing, especially on social media platforms. It isn’t just about understanding the importance of choosing secure passwords. The little quizzes on Facebook that basically mine for information that are used in security questions. Knowing that a video you just shared showed your street address, and you were wearing your school logo. Students also need to keep their smart-technolgoy secure. Teach them about the best sort of security for their phones (like how an online photo of their face can trick the facial recognition software on their phone). Look for VPN lessons to add extra layers of privacy. Teach students that the more “locks” they have on their information, the safer they are and the harder it is for others to steal it.
Lastly, students should know how to present themselves professionally. A lot of their online interactions will be recreational. There’s a lot of social media. A lot of texting. A lot of messages. Students might not spend a lot of time emailing or may not know how to write resumes and cover letters. Give students a crash course in professional etiquette. Show them the difference between colloquial speech that is okay to use with their friends and the professional writing when they request information from a professor, contact HR, or apply for a new position. I have an email etiquette unit that works perfect for discussing professionalism. My unit can be found here. Or, the digital bundle option can be found here.
There are so many resources available. There’s no one way to go about this, and a lot of your lessons will come from the class culture and what your students already understand about digital citizenship. Find articles that work best with where your students are at, and help them become well-rounded citizens in the digital world we live in. You can also consider Business&ITCenter21, a teacher-created digital curriculum. You can find information on their Digital Citizenship module here. ISTE also has resources listed in their article here.