There are still many misconceptions about what digital citizenship actually is and why it matters. Why should teachers make it a focus in their classrooms? Why should we be teaching digital citizenship to our students at all?
We know you have these questions and more. In a case like this, however, it’s best to present a few reasons that come more from the heart. So here is why teaching digital citizenship is something we all should be doing—teachers, parents, friends, and self-learners alike.
It Provides Protection
The online world is just as real and omnipresent as the physical one. Consequently, we live fully just as much in one as in the other. Since there are no real tangible laws governing the digital world, the digital citizen has to take initiative to self-govern. This is why teaching digital citizenship means ensuring students are practicing both respect and responsibility for oneself and others in a virtual environment.
Teaching our learners to have respect and responsibility for themselves encourages them to be conscientious about how they portray themselves with online personas. Respecting and being responsible for others teaches students the value of being constructive and friendly online, and how to model that behaviour for others. When you put them together, you have an exemplary digital citizen who is guided and protected by a set of their own best practices.
It Shows the Strength of Unity
The Internet allows us to become true global citizens both socially and as a workforce. We can see and track our actions on an international scale. As we measure our impact on the global environment, we learn to gauge our social and moral differences and similarities. This shows us a fundamental truth about demonstrating altruism—that there is strength in numbers.
Using technology in the right way, we can work together using crowdsourcing and other Internet-based services to help those in need. We can rally together to inspire hope and provide aid for countries dealing with hardships and tragedies. Therefore, teaching digital citizenship presents an opportunity for us to show our learners how to use our digital interconnectedness to be of service to others.
It Encourages Transformation
In our book Growing Global Digital Citizens, we discuss the importance of crafting digital citizenship agreements that encourage school-wide transformation. This means that the act of teaching digital citizenship lends itself to practical applications on a much wider scale than that of just teaching the individual or the classroom. Ultimately, in teaching digital citizenship we learn how to apply it to our own practice as teachers and administrators.
For example, let’s say you want to revise your own school’s acceptable use agreements. You begin your transformation by establishing where you are, where you want to go, and how you want together there. Next, you look at different agreements and examine trends like 1:1 technology integration or BYOD practices. These all come with their own benefits and challenges that you learn about as you go along.
When you finally decide what will work best, you upgrade your policies and incorporate them incrementally. This ensures nobody gets overwhelmed and that you manage roadblocks safely and effectively. If you connect the dots, you’ll find that these processes are similar to those practiced in individual digital citizenship, only on a much larger scale.
It Builds Community
Another concept we discuss at length in Growing Global Digital Citizens is the concept of community building. There are three stakeholder communities involved in developing and supporting digital citizenship guidelines:
- the student community
- the teaching community
- the wider community (parents, board members, businesses, etc.)
Our experience with teaching digital citizenship has shown that these guidelines are most successful when all three stakeholder groups develop, agree on, and practice the guidelines themselves. An acceptable use policy is usually signed and in a drawer, but true digital citizenship is different. It’s a program of learning and living that every community member on every level can constantly refer, debate, and improve on.
It Teaches Self-Awareness
Teachable moments are everywhere, and you can use them with your students to continue teaching digital citizenship. For example, there’s a story about a teacher who was instructing his students in the art of silencing their smartphones before class (and in many other public venues) when his own phone went off in the middle of the lecture. Having one of the more obnoxious downloadable ringtones available made the situation even more hilarious.
Of course, the class roared with laughter. So he decided to make himself the brunt of the joke and the focus of the lesson, citing the embarrassment he was feeling as one of the incentives for practicing cell phone courtesy. This led him to embrace critical teaching questions about distractions in learning, and having respect for others. In the end, everyone learned something and had fun doing it. That’s the instructional power of a teachable moment in teaching digital citizenship.
Like any living seeds, teaching digital citizenship is better when nurtured with time in a rich and fertile environment. Take it slow, because it needs a little feeding and tending to every day. Awareness, practice, and open discussion help keep these ideas alive and growing within our learners and ourselves.
This can only mean good things for the rest of the world.
- A List of More Than 30 Useful Digital Citizenship Resources
- Building a Compassionate Classroom in the Age of Cyberbullying
- What is a Global Digital Citizen and Why Does the World Need Them?