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This week on School Stream, we are exploring what it means to be a good digital citizen and how schools are powerful leaders in this area.

Students at all levels need an understanding of good digital citizenship

The internet can seem like a cross between the Wild West and Lord of the Flies at the best of times. Navigating online life in a safe, responsible and respectful way can be an absolute minefield for adults so what is the best way for us, as educators, to guide our students through this brave new world? Students from kindergarten to the final years of secondary schooling will require ever more sophisticated skillsets to ensure they are able to communicate online and take advantage of the benefits of being connected in a global context online. Digital citizenship is undeniably a huge, multi-faceted topic but, through an understanding of some of the key issues, we can empower children to be equipped for active participation in digital society.

Click here to see how Schoolstream helps schools model digital citizenship in action or read on for our overview of digital citizenship and some golden rules to integrate into school life.

Digital citizenship means using technology responsibly

At entry level, good digital citizenship means using technology responsibly, safely and effectively. Being a good digital citizen is pretty similar to being a good citizen in real life (or IRL, as the kids say). But life online presents some additional layers of complexity that means all students need guidance – both implicit and explicit – around staying safe online, thinking critically about online content, and the real life ramifications of online behaviour.

Different age groups require different skills

For younger students we can break it down to “If you wouldn’t show your nana, don’t put it online” and “If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online” coupled with rules about safety and engaging with strangers. But younger students also need guidance around appropriate use, logging off after using computers in public places, staying safe by not engaging with strangers online and telling a trusted adult if they are unsure or uncomfortable about anything they encounter.

So while keeping yourself and your data safe and being respectful are key issues for everyone online, older students also need a more complex set of skills. This includes, but is not limited to, having a good understanding of:

  • Copyright issues and attributing sources
  • Critical thinking and analysis of content – fake news, advertisers, and
  • Sexting – the legal, social and moral implications
  • Party planning
  • The amount of time spent online
  • Gaming etiquette and safety
  • Inclusion

Inherent in all these examples is a whole suite of ideas about the permanence of your digital footprint.

Your digital footprint is forever

A European safe banking initiative produced a fantastic video that went viral several years ago but the impact and messages remain relevant. What goes online, stays online. Forever. And anyone can access this information.

Teachers have fantastic ideas about how to teach and model good digital citizenship

There are plenty of resources available online to support schools and educators to lead their students in becoming good digital citizens. Here are some ideas from fellow educators and experts in how to integrate these 21 st century skills into the curriculum.

1. Every day is a good day to teach digital citizenship
In their article “5 ways to teach digital citizenship to your students”, The Edvocate suggests building the concept into existing lesson plans. Practical examples include highlighting copyright and intellectual property rights and, for younger students, plagiarism and citing references. Here, discussions around how students would feel if someone was to steal their work can be helpful.

2. There is always a teachable moment when it comes to digital
The idea of integrating digital citizenship across all subject areas is one echoed by the ISTE, who suggest embracing teachable digital citizenship moments:

“… viral rumors blowing up students’ social media feeds, drama or misunderstandings in an online discussion, or an instance of oversharing online that you happen to witness… or setting norms and protocols for online discussions, short digital citizenship skill-builders can enhance learning activities across a range of content areas.”

3. You can use pens and paper to teach digital citizenship

Teacher Holly Fairbrother shares her best digital citizenship lesson in the Guardian Education. Using blogging as a tool, the project combines both analogue and digital tools to introduce students to the world of blogging, without letting them loose online. Underpinning the project is the question: “How do I present who I am to the world?”.

4. Review the comments sections of articles
This is another suggestion made by The Edvocate. If you’re using an online resource for class, this provides a potential launching pad for discussion, irrespective of what subject you teach.

‘You will need to make sure to review the comments before you start the lesson to ensure there is nothing inappropriate for the classroom. However, if there is anything that is wrong (without being highly inappropriate or abusive), you can talk to your class about the behavior and how it could be addressed.’

5. Specific lesson plans are merely a click away.
Common Sense Education is a US-based non-profit organisation that provides an abundance of lesson plans and articles around new media and digital citizenship. They partner with Harvard University, among others, and pride themselves on their evidence based programs. There are some great articles online to help teachers, including ideas for teaching online identity and digital citizenship, cyberbullying prevention, and critical thinking about ‘fake news’ and other content.

6. Model good digital citizenship
As always, lead by example. Be mindful of your digital footprint, think critically about the content you browse, resist the urge to overshare and strive for a healthy relationship with your own technology use.

As ever, we welcome your contribution to the discussion. Join us on our social channels.