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Tips on Teaching Digital Citizenship

The world we live in is awash in technology. In the last 30 years, we’ve gone from floppy disks and playing Oregon Trail to smartphones and Fortnight. As adults who remember a time before technology played the role it does today, we often feel overwhelmed by the task of helping our students navigate this new frontier. For kids, it is tempting to see the online world as if it were some fantasy land, but it is very much the real world what kids do and say online matters. The choices students make in their teen years involving technology will have a profound effect on their lives both today and for years to come. It can also have a drastic impact on those around them. When it comes to technology, the stakes are high, so we need to be teaching students about digital citizenship. Most schools have some form of online safety or anti-cyberbullying program, but digital citizenship is more than that, and students need more than an assembly or two or a lesson here or there. They require ongoing conversations and practice applying the skills they are learning. So, consider this your crash course in digital citizenship: what is it, what do students need to learn to be good digital citizens, and how can you best teach them this skillset?

Digital Citizenship encompasses many areas, including:

Internet Safety:

This is one area that schools usually get right. Still, it’s an ever-evolving area, and unfortunately, those who seek to harm children are continually switching tactics. Teach students the following:

  • Never give out personal information 
  • Never meet up with anyone you’ve met online in person
  • Follow the age limit rules of social media and other websites.
  • Only talk to people you know.
  • Never, ever, ever send nude photos of yourself to anyone. It’s illegal.

Be Nice:

This one is simple, but also an ongoing problem. To be a good digital citizen, follow The Golden Rule. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Teach students to ask themselves:

  • Am I using this (text, post, etc.) to lift others up or tear others down?
  • Would I like it if someone shared this about me?
  • Is this gossip? (If it is change the subject, and don’t participate.)

Critical Thinking:

Browse Facebook for a few minutes and it won’t take long until you see headlines like these: Woman Gives Birth to 17 Babies at Once  or Ancient Mayan Scultpure of Batman Found or Hazmat Suits Needed When Installing 5G Towers

The internet is full of half-truths and misinformation, ranging from harmless misinformation to full-fledged scams. Students must learn to discern the true from the false to be accurately informed and to protect themselves. Teachers from all disciplines teach critical thinking skills to their students. Living in a digital world commands that students have, and can apply these skills. Give students plenty of opportunities to practice their critical thinking skills by applying them to what they see online. Teach students to ask themselves the following questions: 

  • Does this seem too good to be true? (It probably is.)
  • Does something sound off about this, or do I feel doubtful after reading/viewing this? (Trust your instincts)
  • Who is the author/perpetuator of this content? Why did they create or share this content? (To educate, to inform, to persuade, to scam, etc.)
  • Is this opinion or fact? Often opinions are written as fact, which can be misleading.
  • How real is this? People often spend time comparing themselves and their lives to other peoples’ lives, when all that is seen online is the best of their life. Teach kids healthy skepticism about things and people that appear perfect.  

While many of these questions would be difficult for young children to answer, you can build the foundation of these critical thinking skills by teaching fact and opinion, author’s purpose, fiction, and nonfiction, etc. 

Teach students to be mindful about their use of technology:

Tech can be very addictive, especially for teens whose brains are ripe for addiction. Teach students strategies to manage their tech use so that it is a help not a hindrance in the classroom. Practical strategies include:

  • Setting timers
  • Before going online, make a list of what you’ll do there. When you’ve completed the list, get off. If you think of something else you need to do, start a new list for next time. 
  • Use apps that monitor your usage and help you set goals such as Moment or the built-in iOS feature Screen Time.
  • The best way to teach students is to model for them. Hopefully, as a teacher, you aren’t on your phone much, but if you are, now is the time to break that habit. 

Reinforce at Home:

Digital Citizenship becomes integrated into a student’s set of behaviors best when there is a partnership between home and school. Educate parents on the benefits of making their kids good digital citizens.

  • Teach parents how to set limits with technology and how to check up on their tech usage.
  • Teach parents to be good role models.
  • Encourage parents to set regular times to talk to their child about what is happening in their ‘digital world.’ 
  • Inform parents about critical thinking skills being taught at school that can be reinforced at home. 

By: Amy Curletto 

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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