Although much has been said about digital citizenship in education, what does it look like when it is truly introduced in a cross-curricular manner? Although there is a great framework in place for Saskatchewan teachers as Krista and Kelsie pointed out in their recent video on the subject of digital citizenship, it is at times difficult to implement in a strategic and meaningful way. In reflecting on the question of the educators’ role in digital citizenship, I realized several things. First of all, digital citizenship has been largely focused on elementary students. Due to the fact that high school students are ‘generally’ more mature and have developed the technical skills to use technology, teachers and parents often assume that they also know how to be responsible digital citizens online. Secondly, I realized that in the 10 years that I have been teaching, digital citizenship education has almost exclusively been defined by the idea of digital safety. The thought being that if we can at least keep kids safe while they are online, then we have done our jobs. This is a strategy driven by fear and, as witnessed throughout history, the best laid plans driven by fear can have dire consequences.
Digital Citizenship education has to be about more than fear mongering and trying to keep kids from visiting certain websites online. There several key aspects necessary for true digital citizens to emerge within a school. To break things down I would like to examine 2 key questions. Firstly, What does digital citizenship mean? Some common responses might be;
1. Being responsible and respectful to others in the community.
2. Caring about your community.
3. Being informed about the needs within your school and community.
4. Doing your best to make your community a better place.
It is clear that the common theme here is community. The living, moving organisms that make up our physical and digital world. The key to educating the future generation of digital citizens does not lie in strategies of protection but in community. This is why schools with higher rates of belonging and connections with regard to school culture have fewer issues with social media and online bullying. Understanding a school’s culture and climate are key aspects in enacting change in any fashion as pointed by Macneil in his study. If a school has an existing culture and climate of positivity, community and engagement, good digital citizenship will follow. It is crucial to understand that the digital world is simply a reflection of ourselves as human beings. If positive school climate and culture foster community engagement and achievement, positive digital interactions will follow.
A second important question to consider is this:
Why is digital citizenship important?
1. We need good digital citizens to make our school and community better for everyone.
2. It is our duty and obligation as digital citizens to do our part.
Just as we expect certain things of our administration, our teachers, and our students, we must have high expectations in our online interactions as well. So often I find that students and many time teachers are unsure of what the expectations are for themselves. What is considered acceptable to post online? With whom may I have an interaction online? How often should I be online? How should I portray myself in online spaces? In what forums may I speak out online about issues that matter to me? These are questions that are not often discussed in schools perhaps. The reality is that expectations for digital citizenship online need to be clearly defined in any school in order to foster caring and engaged digital citizens. This is something I hope to address with our core teachers at my school in the near future.
With the conditions of a positive school culture and digital expectations clearly defined, it becomes much more feasible to engage students in conversations around digital citizenship. In many ways our Saskatchewan curriculum has many areas of crossover in which digital citizenship themes could be included. If our province desires to be a leader in this field, it will be important for schools to establish these expectations for students and staff. As Quijada aptly pointed out in her TedTalk, themes like deconstructing media messages could be discussed in many different courses including Health Wellness, Psychology, Social Studies, or ELA. Rob Williams points out that these ideas about media haven’t radically changed over time, we simply have more media content coming at us every day. In his view, skepticism is the key to driving digital media education. I believe this is an important piece of being a good digital citizen but it is somewhat simplistic. As we learned through the discussion with Pat Maze this past week, there are often more grey areas than black and white.
On a more personal level, I need to be better about modelling what being a good community member of our school looks like. I believe if every teacher commits to promoting a positive school culture and encouraging high expectations of digital citizenship, we will be on a steady path to where we want to be as a province.
Teaching digital citizenship should, in essence, be an offshoot of what teachers are already doing all day, every day, anyway: teaching kids to be good humans.
We are all in the business of raising up responsible and engaged citizens. Keep encouraging students and modelling how to be the best they can be. That is the role of teachers in digital citizenship education or as I prefer to think of it, Character Education!