Oct 19 2010

Digital Citizenship: Teaching Students to Be Good Online Citizens

The Internet is fully of tools to help students understand how to make a positive impact on the world.

 For generations, children have learned about citizenship and personal responsibility at school and at home, from teachers and classmates, from family members, neighbors and their houses of worship. Common lessons include how to treat others and how to keep themselves safe.

Through repetition and through trial and error, most children learn to be good citizens of their communities and the world. In today's digital age, the lessons of citizenship are no different. Only now, students live online too.

Digital citizenship describes how we act and interact both online and off. It encompasses critical thinking, online safety, ethics and digital literacy, among other 21st century skills. At its core, being a good digital citizen means using technology appropriately and participating in online society in a responsible way. For educators, digital citizenship applies to nearly every subject they teach and is an essential component of the modern curriculum.

Resources Galore

The web is loaded with tools to help parents, teachers, school administrators, IT leaders and students understand how to be good citizens of the online (and offline) world.

As the nation's consumer protection champion, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uses law enforcement to protect consumers from harm and educates people and businesses about their rights and responsibilities. To help consumers safely navigate the online world, the FTC created OnGuardOnline.gov. The site offers practical tips from the federal government and the technology industry for developing such 21st century skills as guarding against Internet fraud, securing one's computer and protecting personal information.

The FTC also oversees efforts to help educators develop and reinforce their students' digital citizenship skills.

Unveiled in fall 2009, Net Cetera helps adults chat with kids about being safe online. The 54-page guide, available at OnGuardOnline.gov/NetCetera, covers what parents need to know, where to go for more information and the issues to raise with children about living their lives online. Topics range from file sharing and cyberbullying to sexting and mobile-device etiquette.

Among the key takeaways for parents are to initiate conversations with school-age children about being online; to communicate their values to children and show how those values apply in an online context; and to be patient and persistent in any dialogue on this subject. More than 5,000 schools and libraries nationwide have ordered copies of Net Cetera to distribute to parents and the community.

Another FTC resource, Admongo.gov, helps children apply critical-thinking skills to the advertising that surrounds them. Launched in 2010, the interactive program aims to teach tweens core advertising literacy concepts through game play. In doing so, kids learn and apply digital citizen­ship's most crucial skill: critical thinking.

The game asks children to create an avatar for themselves and then play their way through an environment in which they must spot and decode ads using these questions: Who's responsible for the ad? What is the ad actually saying? What does it want me to do?

Once students learn to ask and answer these questions, they can apply them to any media message. This is reinforced by free lesson plans that are tied to fifth- and sixth-grade standards of learning, as well as other educator resources, available at Admongo.gov.

All information available through the FTC is free. There's no copyright, either, so you can use it and adopt it as your own.

The More You Know

No matter what subject or grade level you teach, chances are you can work digital citizenship into your day. Here are some resources to enhance the experience.

  • For free copies of Net Cetera, Heads Up or any other FTC publication, visit ftc.gov/bulkorder.
  • Check out Admongo.gov/teachers for free lesson plans that emphasize critical-thinking skills.
  • Common Sense Media offers free lesson plans on digital literacy and citizenship. Visit commonsense media.org/educators for resources to help kids be safer, smarter, more responsible digital citizens and to help schools encourage parents to be partners in their children's media education.