What Is Digital Citizenship in K–12 Education Today?
Digital citizenship seeks to educate students on internet safety, but it’s much more than that. A decade ago, the only digital citizenship education students might have received was to watch for online predators. Now, it encompasses more than safety alone.
Nearly half of students in grades 4-8 (40 percent) have connected or chatted with a stranger online, according to a study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. Of those, 53 percent gave the stranger their phone numbers, and 15 percent tried to meet them in person.
These statistics have school districts asking how they can better educate students to understand internet safety as a key component of digital citizenship.
Educators and school leaders must also combat less-than-credible sources of information, which students won’t innately be able to identify without guidance and instruction. It’s a concept even adults are struggling with: Nearly 2 in 3 say fabricated news greatly confuses them about current events and issues, a Pew Research report shows. Twenty-three percent of Americans surveyed admitted to sharing fake news.
The Dig Cit Doctors, Kristen Mattson and LeeAnn Lindsey, founded their company Edvolve as a digital citizenship resource for schools. The pair even created a free curriculum resource for PK-12 schools.
Mattson says digital citizenship includes “scaffolding skills like digital health and well-being, media and information literacy, and social responsibility throughout a child’s K–12 experience.”
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What Are the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship?
Mike Ribble, author of The Digital Citizenship Handbook for School Leaders and Digital Citizenship in Schools, explains that safety is the foundation we can all agree on as a “common denominator,” but the need for additional education grows from there to include savvy and social.
He uses these three S’s — safe, savvy and social — to guide school leaders toward a complete digital citizenship curriculum framework.
Districts hoping to improve their digital citizenship instruction can use Ribble’s framework of nine themes to empower students:
- Digital access ensures the equitable distribution of technology and digital resources.
- Digital commerce focuses on the use of money on digital platforms, including electronic buying, selling and banking.
- Digital communication and collaboration is the electronic exchange of information.
- Digital etiquette refers to the standards of online conduct, which involves thinking of others.
- Digital fluency enables people to make good decisions online. One way schools can focus on building digitally fluent citizens is by helping them decipher real versus fake news.
- Digital health and welfare centers on users’ physical and psychological well-being online.
- Digital law refers to the understanding of online actions and the creation of rules and policies around digital behavior.
- Digital rights and responsibility means the freedom to use the internet and digital tools while maintaining a responsibility to inform adults of potential problems.
- Digital security and privacy focuses on awareness of cyberthreats, including privacy attacks and breaches, and working to prevent them.
Schools can integrate these themes into comprehensive instruction to ensure they are focusing on more than basic online safety. Educators should teach each theme as students use online spaces for classwork, research and other projects.
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How to Consider Digital Citizenship When Planning Tech Purchases
District leaders have extensive decision-making to do when they purchase new technology for staff and students. Digital citizenship should be top of mind during the planning and purchasing process to fully implement it into instruction. Leaders can follow these expert tips when purchasing and implementing new technology.
Choose tools that provide authentic interactions.
Ribble warns against buying and integrating “technology for tech’s sake.”
“Purchasing tools and platforms that allow young people to interact with content, with one another and with their teacher in the most authentic ways possible” is helpful, Mattson explains.
Integrate digital citizenship across the curriculum.
With students’ lives and responsibilities moving to online platforms, digital citizenship must be fully integrated across the curriculum.
“To truly create a culture of digital citizenship, we have to pair curriculum with policies, practices and purchases that advance the goals we have for our students,” Mattson says. Educators can integrate it into a research project in a science classroom or an English lesson that helps students identify the credibility of sources.
“Each teacher has to understand that intentionality,” Ribble says, adding that teacher preparation programs are starting to focus on teaching future educators about this need.