As our society races toward a realization of the Internet of Things, there is an increasing emphasis in the world of K-12 education to get technology into the hands of staff and students.
Something that’s missing from this race is a collective effort to educate not only our students but also our staff on the importance of understanding what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.
We have access to more information through various mediums and more exposure to the world around us than ever before. With this access and exposure comes a responsibility that people of all ages are lacking a true understanding of — namely, the lasting digital footprint that we create every day.
Part of my role as a learning environment adviser for CDWG is to have conversations with district stakeholders and ask questions like, “Why do you want those devices?” “How do you plan on using them?” “What kind of professional development and training are you going to offer?” But what I (we) need to also start asking is, “How are you educating your staff and students on what it means to be a responsible digital citizen?”
Digital citizenship, not to be confused with digital literacy, is defined by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) as: “Students understand human, cultural and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.”
ISTE Contributor Mike Ribble defines the nine themes of digital citizenship as:
- Access: full electronic participation in society.
- Commerce: electronic buying and selling of goods.
- Communication: electronic exchange of information.
- Literacy: process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology.
- Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure.
- Law: electronic responsibility for actions and deeds.
- Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.
- Health & Wellness: physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.
- Security (self-protection): electronic precautions to guarantee safety.
I received a “citizenship” rating — that is, a grade for how I behaved in class and in the overall school culture — throughout my K-12 experience. The school I taught at used X, Y, Z (best behaved, normal high school behavior and a consistent disruption to the learning process, respectively) to rate the citizenship of our students.
Educators are charged with teaching students how to behave in a social setting, rating them on factors such as getting to class on time, being prepared, bringing a positive attitude and being respectful. All of these are transferable traits that lend themselves well to helping students become effective and productive employees down the road.
Next, let’s take a moment to think about questionable social media posts or pictures you’ve seen from family, friends or colleagues, or how many times students (current or former) have been calledto the principal’s office over posts or pictures that have been brought to the school’s attention.
Now just think if we added a similar rating system to the current citizenship ratings, encouraging and evaluating digital citizenship for students, starting as early as kindergarten. I know that many of my friends, former colleagues and students would receive a “Z” digital citizenship grade if such a system existed. But would this system be enough to guide them, to help them correctly navigate the ins and outs of the digital era as they progress through their educational journey?
The digital citizenship curriculum and education has to begin in the K-12 time frame, because even in its simplest form and their earliest stages, our young people have technology in their hands and access to an ever-growing and changing collection of digital content. Our students will always have technology and digital access, so why not explain their rights and responsibilities? In this digital era that has seen the emergence of things like cyberbullying and cyberstalking, we, as parents and educators, have a whole new world of stranger danger to talk about. Students’ health and wellness — as well as personal security — are becoming just as important as some of the “required” content we test kids on each year.
We are in unchartered waters, not only as educators but also as parents and mentors. How do we help this digital generation of students realize that what they are doing is forever a part of their digital footprint? Future employers, college admission staff, even future in-laws will have the ability to Google or Bing and find everything and more, good or bad, about them.
So what are the next steps? A movement has already begun to teach students about digital literacy. But before we focus on that curriculum, why not start with teaching our students and staff members how to be responsible digital citizens?
This article is part of the “Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.