A year ago, or even a few months ago, we probably couldn’t have imagined that a large majority of students in our educational system would be engaging in an entirely remote or a hybrid model of remote learning. More than ever, teachers and students are engaging in a digital world. For this very reason, it is more important than ever to model, practice, teach, and provide a safe environment for student to engage in digital citizenship.
Many students are digital natives, which means they were born into a world that embraces digital technology, and they engage in the use of many digital technologies on a daily basis. Our current PreK–12 students have only known a world where everyone communicates using mobile phones and connects with friends and family via social media applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. The vast majority of the population has access to the internet at all times from a device in their pocket. What does this mean for our students, the world they engage in, and their future relationship with technology?
Our students are digital natives, but that does not make them naturally good digital citizens. Digital citizenship is something that needs to be learned. That said, the majority of today’s educators are digital immigrants. This means that many teachers were not born into a world that embraced and engaged in digital technology on a daily basis, but they have immigrated into this world over time. The depth to which they have immigrated varies widely. Whether a student or teacher is a digital native or immigrant, everyone has room to learn more and become better digital citizens.
To compound the situation, technology is changing and will continue to at a very rapid pace. We need to prepare ourselves and our students for these changes by helping them develop skills to thrive in college, careers, and life. We also know that digital citizenship is not a vaccine; it is not something you do once and then never have to worry about or practice again. Digital citizenship needs to be modeled, taught, integrated into content, and practiced over and over again.
To become good at something, it takes time and practice, and it also involves making mistakes along the way. We need to embrace a growth mindset around digital citizenship for ourselves and our students and provide a safe environment to engage in and practice being good digital citizens.
Where to Begin?
We should begin with identifying what digital citizenship is. Sounds easy, right? However, there’s not a single definition or understanding that is being used or adopted universally. Each district and school may have their own working version of digital citizenship. Most definitions are very similar, but it’s very important that you know and understand the definition that is provided by your school and district.
According to the ISTE Standards for Students, students who are digital citizens should “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.” Common Sense Education defines digital citizenship as a way of thinking, being, and acting online: Thinking critically, being safe, and acting responsibly.
Many districts have policies in place that address digital citizenship. One common practice is to have a responsible use policy (RUP). In fact, a number of districts have shifted away from the term acceptable usage policy (AUP) and moved to RUP. This transition highlights the idea that a student should be treated as a person who is responsible for their own ethical and appropriate behavior, rather than just provided a list of things they shouldn’t do online. These policies have helped to move away from a culture of compliance and move toward one that empowers students and better prepares them to make responsible choices as they continue on their college and career path. RUPs help set the stage for supporting teachers and students to engage in positive and empowering digital experiences. If your district has such a policy, you should make sure to read it, understand it, and share it with your students and families.
Once you know how digital citizenship is defined in your district, it is important to make sure that your students and families also understand what digital citizenship is and what it means to be a good digital citizen. In the coming weeks, we will share additional information, strategies, and tips to build digital citizenship awareness and practices for you, your students, and your broader online communities.
Extend Your Learning
- Essential Digital Citizenship Lessons for the Coronavirus Pandemic (Common Sense Education)
- Ways to Boost Digital Citizenship During Remote Learning (EdTech: Focus on K–12)
- Digital Citizenship and Distance Learning (LearnSafe)