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Expanding digital access to all children at all ages benefits both educators and students alike. At the same time, though, it opens the door to some new challenges, from cyberbullying and online safety issues to concerns surrounding privacy, copyright and establishing a digital footprint.
Internet filtering goes a long way toward protecting students from nefarious websites while in the classroom. But helping kids stay safe online requires more than just a technology solution; it requires preparing and equipping students to be responsible digital citizens who understand and follow the norms of appropriate technology use.
The School’s Role in Developing Digital Citizens
If the goal is to make sure children are using technology responsibly and are protected from potential dangers, shouldn’t the parents be the primary line of defense?
While parents may be the best guides, it’s not reasonable to expect any parent to oversee every moment of their children’s online experience. What’s more, as students mature they access the Internet through more devices with less supervision and fewer filters. They will eventually have unlimited access to everything available on the web, and the question becomes less about what they will see and more about whether they know the rules of the road. After all, much of what they do online will become part of their permanent record. An adolescent indiscretion, once the secret of a few peers, is now viewable by the world at large, including future employers.
Supervision isn’t a long-term solution; education and awareness are. As we give students access to the Internet to assist with their overall education, we also need to teach them to protect themselves, use technology responsibly, safeguard their online reputations and avoid potential dangers while they travel the digital world.
Of course, this can be easier said than done when your school day is already very full. As schools work toward full electronic access for all students—a cornerstone of digital citizenship—many teachers struggle to find the time and the resources to teach the other components: Personal safety, electronic etiquette, dealing with cyberbullying, password security, copyright protection…and the list goes on.
Bringing Digital Citizenship Into the Curriculum
For all the challenges of teaching digital citizenship in the classroom, we know it’s critical. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015 92 percent of teens reported going online daily, and 71 percent of teens used more than one social network site. Common Sense Media’s recently released “Technology Addiction” report reveals a number of eye-opening statistics, including this one: Half of teens feel they’re addicted to their mobile devices, along with over one-quarter of their parents.
With online access beginning as early as kindergarten, the need for digital citizenship instruction is only going to intensify.
Here are four strategies you can apply to address the reality of a digitally enabled world:
- Take advantage of available resources: A growing number of organizations offer programs and curricula to address these very issues. IKeepSafe, for example, has partnered with Google to develop the Google Digital Literacy and Citizenship Program. Geared toward sixth to eighth grade students, this free curriculum, which includes videos, lesson plans and student handouts, addresses issues such as determining the veracity of a website, managing a digital reputation and identifying scams.
- Model smart online behavior: Technology will continue to evolve, and that means teachers need to be continual learners themselves—equipping themselves first and modeling the behaviors they expect to see. By doing so, they’ll help their students adapt to their own responsibilities more quickly, and they’ll also help reinforce the tenets of digital citizenship in everyday activities. (Read how one school district was recognized as a Common Sense Digital Citizenship: Certified District in 2014 for the work its teachers are doing in this area.)
- Look for best practices you can adopt: While some schools teach digital citizenship through dedicated technology classes, many teachers find that they can incorporate this training into subjects already being taught. The Teaching Channel, in partnership with Common Sense Education, provides videos of classroom teachers doing just this. Here, educators can watch other teachers incorporate lessons about cyberbullying into an English class by creating online Super Digital Citizens, or practice critical thinking skills by evaluating the trustworthiness of various websites. The site is a wonderful resource for educators looking to include digital citizenship into Common Core standards.
- Make it part of the whole: In their article, The Strategy for Digital Citizenship, Don Orth and Edward Chin argue that digital citizenship shouldn’t be viewed as something that’s separate and apart from other essential areas, like academic excellence and character development. Instead it should be woven into “everyday learning and living,” relevant and aligned with each stage of a student’s educational career.
Filtering software is an important tool for empowering kids to be both agile and safe when using technology. But it’s only part of the solution.
As we strive to provide at-home Internet service to all students, we must also ensure that those students have the capability to navigate the online world in safe, responsible and respectful ways.