Digital Citizenship is one of the hot educational buzz terms this year. But what is Digital Citizenship really? In short, it covers topics such as how to conduct yourself online civilly, refrain from inappropriate behavior (like cyberbullying), engage in meaningful discourse, and build a positive digital footprint for yourself and your institution. Just like we teach students how to behave in the schoolyard, we must do the same in cyberspace.
Schools have a tendency to shy away from actively teaching digital citizenship due to time constraints in the curriculum, concerns about student-teacher interaction online, as well as anxiety over students having ready access to social media (like Facebook and Twitter). However, there are some ways that you can build Digital Citizenship into daily interactions as well as components of dynamic lesson plans in a safe and constructive way!
Students always watch adults – whether we know it or not. They watch how we treat one another and engage with the world. Teenagers are often inundated with conflicting messages: their parents will check their own phone at the dinner table yet scold them for the same behavior, a teacher will be on their iPad during an assembly, and yet students are reprimanded for being on their devices in class, and adults chastise them for being rude online yet will launch into angry diatribes on a political forum. Edutopia highlighted this issue in their article, The Digital Lives of Teens: Turning ‘Do as I say’ into ‘Do as I do’.
So it is our job as educators to model appropriate online behavior for them. For example, if you have a Twitter account or a blog (even if it’s not for professional topics), you can use it to be constructive and engaging online. Don’t just tell students to be civil or constructive online, show them how to do just that. Your actions can help to demonstrate why refraining from harmful comments makes it a better experience. Let your online behavior reveal to them how powerful online communities can be for positive, communal engagement.
It can be easy to shy away from the topic if it is brought up. However, remember that students engage online every day, often without effective adult supervision. In her article From Smoke Signals to Tweets, Shawn McCusker points out that throughout history, those who have been able to successfully navigate new means of communication have become the innovative leaders of their time. Social Media, believe it or not, is the telegraph of today. You can try to discuss with them the importance of safety, civility, and digital footprints. This is a great topic for home rooms or advisory periods. If you have students that flock to your room during break, I’m sure that online behavior comes up in discussion.
It is easy to find examples from students’ real lives to foster these conversations. For example, I had a group of young ladies that would often eat lunch in my classroom. One day, they began discussing the fact that they would keep track of their ex’s on Facebook, and that watching them with a new girlfriend was often very hurtful and painful, but they could not stop looking. I suggested that they un-friend their ex’s so that they would be unable to view their pages. After initially balking at the idea, one girl decided to do just that. A few weeks later she told me that her experience on Facebook had become so much more positive now that she was no longer inundated with updates about her ex and his new girlfriend. Having positive, yet frank, conversations about how students engage online can be key to tapping into their experience.
Another way to promote these conversations is to openly talk about celebrities and other high profile figures that have gotten themselves into trouble using social media. In her article, “What do ClimateGate, Tiger Woods, and Michael Phelps have in Common?” Beth Holland highlights the role that social media played in the very public scandals of these prominent and respected celebrities. The news media is rife with examples: Anthony Weiner, Amanda Bynes, and Charlie Sheen are constantly in the news for their missteps online. These are great ways to get students talking about how social media blunders can lead to some serious consequences.
Still, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and these conversations become scare tactics. At the same time, there are a number of positive examples out there that you can discuss. For example, teenager Jeremiah Anthony started a twitter feed West High Bro’s. Currently at over 5,000 followers, the teen and his friends regularly post compliments and praise their fellow students, teachers, and members of their community. I know that I love to ask students about their positive social media experiences and encourage them to keep up these types of activities!
Another great way to bring digital citizenship into your classroom is to incorporate social media into your lesson plans. This can provide a great avenue to model behavior, discuss online actions, and provide a safe environment for students to learn and explore. There are many ways to bring digital tools into traditional curricula and established frameworks.
For example, you can establish a blog for students to post work, comment on topics, and engage in online discussions. Edublogs and KidBlog allow you to set the parameters for your classroom – blogs can be open to the public, open to your school network, or just available for your class. You control the privacy settings and thus the environment. This is a perfect opportunity for you to model online engagement as well as provide them a safe environment in which to play. It is also a great way to start those discussions about online behavior early!
And don’t fret if you’re uncomfortable with social media yourself. There are a lot of ways that teachers have engaged students in tweeting and comments without the use of any technology. My good friend and former colleague, Karen Arrington, does a great lesson with her students using only pen and paper. You can read about this project in her article, “Paper Blogging with Students.” This is a great way to prep students for online engagement without having to set up a blog or online community!
Hopefully, as the school year progresses and the more you establish an open dialogue about Digital Citizenship, model behavior, and enable open discussion, the more students will understand the expectations we have of them. At the same time, they will learn the power that comes with with positive Digital Citizenship – engagement, learning, and a good Digital Footprint that follows them through their academic and professional careers!
To learn more about Digital Citizenship, EdTechTeacher will be offering a FREE webinar on October 15th at 7:00pm EST. Registration is open.
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