Lessons in Digital Citizenship

globeSometimes we forget, in our haste to make things happen digitally quickly, that there’s a human side to tech that needs to be taught, too. The reality is that most of us use technology as a universal way to communicate—whether we’re leading the class, just in the class, or just passing time. We’ve heard all the stories about kids working computing devices, software, and apps without formal lessons—they just do it. You may have heard the lines about, “students are teaching me” from teachers. As parents and educators, we most often brag about that. But beyond that, there needs to be more.

Teachers or parents who have children/students using technology have a responsibility to teach not only how to use technology, but also how to use it appropriately. That means more than just the operations required; it also means lessons in social and ethical awareness, as well as etiquette—regardless of a student’s technology prowess. We used to call that “citizenship”, but today, we need to add a digital citizenship component to those lessons. Relying on an acceptable use policy signature does not embed good citizenship lessons into digital era curriculum.

Teaching these things isn’t new for teachers or parents, although with time pressing in on all sides, finding the time is the trick. But it doesn’t take much time to add a little reflective thinking into a digital lesson, or to have a conversation with a child. Students look to adults for specific guidance and they respond to it when it’s given regularly. It’s just a matter of taking the time—regularly and consistently—to do it. Forget about who is responsible.  The point is that we all are accountable, and working at it from different avenues makes sense.

There are packaged programs out there to guide digital and community citizenship and responsibilities, but here are a few ideas to begin:

  1. Have kids create a mission statement of who they are—how they see themselves—with written copies for home and school. Do it with a computer or pen; it doesn’t matter. Mission statements can change, and can be modified often.  Referring to them often is the key. Living up to a mission statement can be a substantial goal, because adjectives about self hold great weight. This is active and won’t collect dust in a drawer. Displaying a student’s mission statement is always an inspiring event—whether on a classroom wall, or on a refrigerator door.
  2. In lessons or home conversations, touch on something that communicates integrity, kindness, and awareness of others—inside and outside the classroom or home—playground or online. Share examples. Make these conversations rather than memorization and regurgitation of goals or buzz words. Talk with kids rather than at them. While that may be as much an adult challenge, time spent pays off.
  3. Leave time daily for students to reflect in writing, and make sure students can comfortably share a sampling of those reflections at some point during a week with a small group or a larger one—if they like. Sharing those reflections can happen at home as well. The connection of home with school solidifies good citizenship and communicates a united front. Digital citizenship needs to play a part.
Ken Royal

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is an Education storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.
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