Apr 22 2020

Ways to Boost Digital Citizenship During Remote Learning

School districts can create safe e-learning environments by teaching students digital citizenship.

As school districts across the country adopt e-learning, it’s critical that K–12 leaders and educators promote digital citizenship among students.

When Loudoun County Public Schools closed their school buildings and shifted to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia hosted a virtual panel discussion on digital citizenship via Zoom, Nathaniel Cline reports for the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

Featuring district school psychologist Benjamin Fernandez, high school senior class representative Havish Malladi and Common Sense Media Regional Education Program Manager Barbara Huth, the panel offered key considerations for educators, students and parents on topics such as media literacy, cyberbullying and how to monitor online activity.

“This is really important now, especially as we are all at home so much more on our devices,” Wexton said during the panel. “We need to spend a lot more time on them. We need to figure out the best way to navigate this transition.”

Why Digital Citizenship Is Essential to Remote Learning

In a previous conference, Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), defined digital citizenship as “using technology to solve problems to engage respectfully with people of different viewpoints, to make your voice heard and to understand how to recognize fact from fiction.”

Teaching students digital citizenship is not only key to protecting them online. It also helps them navigate digital spaces and use online tools wisely. According to a 2019 report by nonprofit Common Sense Education, a majority of K–12 teachers — 91 percent of 1,200 surveyed — believed that teaching digital citizenship in their classrooms was very effective in helping students “make smart, safe and ethical decisions online.”

Remote learning environments also offer opportunities for educators to show students how to be good digital citizens. In school districts that use e-learning days, students rely on devices and the internet to learn, collaborate and communicate with teachers and their peers.

But without having a proper understanding of appropriate practices around technology use, students may not know how to handle potential issues on the internet such as cyberbullying, misinformation and cyberthreats.

How to Incorporate Digital Citizenship into Remote Learning

It’s necessary for schools to create an environment of internet safety, especially during remote learning. Before rolling out devices for e-learning, schools should have digital citizenship resources available to students.

For example, Fort Bend Independent School District in Texas shared an infographic that lists the do’s and don’ts of digital etiquette when they launched their online learning plan. The infographic also notes that “the same rules and expectations that apply to campus also apply in the digital world,” reiterating how students should behave online.

Meanwhile, Valley View School District 365U in Illinois posted links to digital citizenship lessons on their remote learning hub. The school district uses Common Sense Education’s free digital citizenship curriculum, which features videos, slideshows and other activities for all grade levels. The curriculum touches on important topics such as digital footprint and identity, news and media literacy and privacy and security.

Professional development is also crucial to effectively teaching digital citizenship and safety. Google for Education has training modules that teach educators to recognize potential phishing and other scams and guide them in showing students how to critically evaluate sources online. ISTE also offers a virtual digital citizenship course for K–12 teachers, IT directors and tech coaches which covers the framework of teaching digital citizenship and how to design learning activities that advance them.

Content filtering and monitoring tools also help students become more aware of their online behavior. GoGuardian Admin, for example, lets educators choose which websites students can access. “You define the high-level policy around what you are trying to achieve, and the filter does the rest for you,” Tyler Shaddix, chief product officer at GoGuardian, tells EdTech. And if students try to access blocked content, they’ll receive a customized message that encourages better digital behavior. Educators can also monitor students’ well-being from a distance with GoGuardian Beacon, a suicide and self-harm prevention tool that detects and alerts administrators of mental health warning signs.

Similarly, Lightspeed Systems’ Relay, a cloud-based platform, makes it easy for educators to see what sites students are visiting and what they’re searching for online, even when they’re outside the school network. IT teams can set up Relay on any device they deploy for e-learning and keep students safe from inappropriate content.

By teaching and encouraging digital citizenship, schools can better engage students in safe and productive remote learning environments.

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