Nov 17 2020

Q&A: How To Empower Students with Digital Citizenship in the Virtual Classroom

Digital citizenship is all about learning how to use technology for good, says the founder and executive director of Digital Citizenship Institute.

With the shift to remote learning due to COVID-19, students and educators suddenly found themselves spending more time online than ever before. This new learning environment also placed a heightened focus on digital citizenship, which generally refers to how we use technology safely and responsibly.

But Marialice Curran, founder and executive director of the Digital Citizenship Institute and a former university professor, has a more holistic definition when it comes to the classroom. In her eyes, digital citizenship goes beyond just keeping students safe online. It involves showing them how they can use digital tools for good. She recently spoke with EdTech about what that means and how educators can empower students to do that with a community approach, even during uncertain times.

EDTECH: How would you define digital citizenship?

CURRAN: Digital citizenship is an intergenerational approach — learning side by side to use technology for good. Of course, there are so many different layers to that: how to be an informed consumer and creator, how to be inclusive and make content accessible, and so on. It also needs to extend beyond safety and have all of these other layers of learning together as a community at school, at home and at work. This should include everybody; this isn’t just about our young people in school.

EDTECH: Do you think the pandemic changed how people view digital citizenship today? If so, how?

CURRAN: I hope so. If anything, I do see that the pandemic has brought more awareness to it. Also, my hope is that the days of calling in an expert to do an assembly about digital citizenship are over. This needs to be something that isn’t just checking a box. We can’t just say we already had that conversation; it has to be ongoing, and it has to happen for the entire school community. We have to come together and make a pledge that our choices, actions and words online are going to solve real problems and create solutions.

DISCOVER: How can technology improve digital citizenship in K–12?

EDTECH: What can schools do to further promote digital citizenship?

CURRAN: When it comes to teaching digital citizenship, the first thing I always say is that it’s not about the technology. You don’t need to be tech savvy; you just need to have a willingness to learn. Also, digital citizenship is not something that stands alone. There are certain skills and mindsets that come with it, which educators can embed into their curriculum, their content or their classroom routines.

EDTECH: How can educators embed digital citizenship into their instruction?

CURRAN: One example is you can have a classroom social media account and assign student roles, just like you would in elementary school where you might have a line leader or someone who passes out papers. In this case, someone might be the Tweeter or the Instagrammer of the day, where they share out what it is that they’re learning. You can also use it to start a discussion about online spaces and sharing information online. It’s a great place to start with younger learners who are under 13; it’s like having training wheels before we’re even talking about getting keys to the car. Another idea is to start a class blog or podcast. It’s so important that our young people have an opportunity to know how to also write authentic, meaningful comments back.

I would also suggest thinking about how you can add layers of community outreach to what you’re doing already. For example, there’s a great program in Toronto called Cyber-Seniors, where students act as technology mentors for older adults. Now, during COVID-19, think about how many seniors need help learning how to order groceries online, download music or use a device to connect with their loved ones. How can we get our young people to help and lead the way?

MORE ON EDTECH: Why digital citizenship is essential in the remote classroom.

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