What an awesome week! We have followed, and participated in, so many great conversations about the important work of teaching students how to interact responsibly and productively with technology. We hope you've enjoyed our series of posts and tweets about digital citizenship; we would love to hear any experiences or tips you have about teaching tomorrow's digital citizens.
A few important points resonated this week, through conversations or posts we found. It is interesting to us that the most salient points have implications for teachers and students--and the community at large. We are all students of digital citizenship lessons; we all can learn something to make our use of the internet more responsible, more productive, and more respectful.
Walk the Walk
One key point we heard again and again was that educators (and adults in general) need to be cognizant of their own digital behavior. There was a lot of discussion about the concept of a digital footprint—the culmination of all of our online activity, all of which could be found without our consent. A good way to conceptualize this is to think about suddenly becoming widely known through the media but unable to speak for yourself. What is the story your online persona would tell? How could the pictures and tweets and interactions online publicly be construed to portray you? Do they paint an accurate picture?
Serving as an educator implies many responsibilities, one of which is serving as a role model to students. We all need to recognize that the idea of separate personal and professional digital footprints—that is, two distinct footprints—is all but non-existent today. Consider the interconnected nature of social media outlets and just how much privacy locking accounts gets you. Simply admonishing students to be aware of their own digital footprint is not enough if a teacher then tweets something unkind, something damaging to her own reputation. Not only does this set a bad example, it also gives students tacit permission to follow these hostile or self-destructive role models. If the teacher does it, why can't I? As Leslie Pralle Keehn (@LPralleKeehn) noted:
In most cases, being thoughtful and deliberate in what you share is a better course than relying on the often false sense of security that private accounts provide. Most teachers grew up in an education system devoid of social media, at a time when "digital citizenship" wasn't even a concept! Writing for Edsurge, Aliza Aufrichtig perhaps put it best when she noted that Digital Citizenship is an Opportunity for Educators and Students to Learn Together.
Critically Evaluate Sources
Teaching kids to dig deeper on internet "facts" to evaluate sources and copyrights is another key part of digital citizenship puzzle. As educators and adults, we must not blindly re-tweet and pass on information. As each tweet becomes an indelible part of your permanent digital footprint, make sure you read the whole article and evaluate the sources before re-tweeting and thereby personally endorsing the content.
But don't just take our word for it, Abraham Lincoln himself apparently had strong thoughts on the issue:
Cyberbullying and inappropriate digital interactions are a sad byproduct of social media's prevalence. A strong digital citizenship education can strive to overcome these problems. Digital citizenship curriculum lessons often focus on the fair and kind use of social media, asking users to think before they post updates, asking students to consider, "Will this make readers feel jealous, or will it embarrass my friends?" or "Could this update be seen as over-sharing details that no one cares about?" While some of this might feel mundane or even outside the purview of traditional school curriculum, navigating the rocky and uncharted waters of the social internet is challenging for students. They benefit from clear guidance and good behavior models.
"Think before you post" is a simple, strong mantra to follow. This video, available on Commonsense Media's Digital Citizenship website, outlines basic rules for students of all ages. It's an excellent guide to begin a discussion on how to share the appropriate amount of details in a safe way while considering the reactions to a post.
Use The Power of the Internet for Good
The well-documented power of social media and the internet is a huge gift to today's students, providing unprecedented levels of information and the ability to communicate instantly. The obvious next concern is how will this power be used?
For educators, this means participating in social media. If you have a blog, read other blogs and comment on them, share them, and interact. The beauty of the social internet is the ability to have valuable interactions with others; this depends on each participant's willingness to give and get information. The more educators in this information ecosystem, the better! We (@SASEducator and right here on the blog) love being part of it and are learning how to contribute more and more. We challenge each of you to use the available resources and platforms in ways that lift up others, help others, and communicate truth.
Last Thought: Every Week Should be Digital Citizenship Week!
While it is vitally important and exciting to have a week focused on digital citizenship, educators can't stop there. Digital citizenship needs to become an ingrained, inseparable part of the curriculum for today's kids, at every grade level. Every week should be digital citizenship week because students need varied skills and ongoing support to stay safe and prosper.