Is Your Digital Citizenship Program Up to Snuff?

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Avishai Teicher/Flickr CC-by-2.5 via Commons

Digital Citizenship Week is officially celebrated every October — but it’s never too late for school leaders to review and reflect on how educators are addressing digital citizenship.

Since it was coined more than a decade ago, the meaning of the term “digital citizenship” has expanded. Originally it referred to concepts that focused almost exclusively on privacy, online safety, basic netiquette and respecting copyright. These skills are still important, but what constitutes good digital citizenship today encompasses a great deal more.

Students and teachers now need to hone additional online skills such as crafting and monitoring online personas, and considering the ethics and effects of cybervigilantism, which includes online actions designed to monitor what others do. And the digital citizenship landscape continues to change.

How are you helping teachers, support staff and parents keep up with new concerns related to digital citizenship that impact students’ online behavior? Here are four questions that school leaders can ask themselves and members of the school community about the current state of their digital citizenship program. 

1. What kinds of professional development opportunities related to digital citizenship are regularly offered to educators and parents?

Much of the literature concerning digital citizenship refers to what students need to know and do related to their behavior online. However, if the adults responsible for teaching these skills are not well-versed themselves in what constitutes good digital citizenship, they are hard-pressed to relay accurate information to students.

Begin a review of your digital citizenship program by evaluating the professional development opportunities currently offered to teachers and support staff. Are activities designed to encourage attendees to update or expand their understanding of good digital citizenship and how this translates to helping students? In addition, what programs are offered through the school to help parents increase their skills in guiding their children’s online behaviors away from school?

2. How well do educators and parents understand the Acceptable Use Policy, and do they support it?

It’s important to figure out what online behaviors teachers and support staff at your site model for students. Are the adults on campus familiar with the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)? Do they adhere to the policy themselves or do they take a “wink-wink, nod-nod” approach in which they acknowledge the AUP but then ignore it?

Outdated or unrealistic policies are barriers to a successful digital citizenship program. Review the AUP regularly and have ongoing discussions about what’s working and what needs to be changed or dropped altogether. Also remember that if you want parents to support policy enforcement when you need them to, you must do more than send home a copy of the AUP at the beginning of the year. Offer an evening meeting to review and respond to questions about the policy.

In addition, consider posting a short video tutorial on the school’s website to explain the AUP, how it is enforced and why. Ask teachers to include an overview of the AUP during back-to-school night or similar events. When the adults in their lives demonstrate appropriate online behavior, students are more likely to follow suit.

3. How current is the curriculum for your digital citizenship program, how often do students receive direct instruction on this topic, and what strategies are teachers using to infuse digital citizenship skills throughout the school day?

I have not heard an educator say that it’s unnecessary for students to learn skills that help them behave safely and appropriately online. Most teachers readily engage in conversations regarding their concerns and experiences with students’ digital misbehaviors.

However, when asked what steps they take to ensure that their students know how to behave appropriately online, many of these same educators admit that instruction is limited to one or two lessons at the start of the school year. This isn’t enough. School leaders need to review the curriculum used for direct instruction in digital citizenship skills to ensure that teachers have up-to-date, relevant instructional materials to use with students. It’s also important to share strategies that educators can use to incorporate digital citizenship skills throughout the school year in all content areas.

4. How quickly are you able to address new concerns that arise related to digital citizenship?

Even when the digital citizenship curriculum is regularly reviewed and updated, school leaders must make a point of paying attention to emerging online behaviors they may need to address with teachers, support staff, parents and students. For example, we’ve talked with students at length about their digital footprint and why it’s important to be cognizant of personal information that may be available online about them.

Now many experts are referring to digital footprints by a different name — digital tattoos. This is because this newer term acknowledges how difficult it can be to eradicate all the information that may be available online about a person. Experts also recognize that individuals must take a more active role in managing their own online personas so that posted information is accurate and appropriate. Are members of your school community versed in how to go about doing this?

Another recent concern for school communities is the rapid growth of cybervigilantism. Traditionally vigilantes take the law into their own hands to dispense “justice” based upon the vigilantes’ definition of right and wrong. Cybervigilantes take this behavior online.

This type of vigilantism takes many forms. Educators and students are probably most familiar with hacktivists (e.g., Anonymous), political activists (e.g., Edward Snowden), or public shaming where people go online to call others to task for behaviors they disapprove of. People have been publicly shamed for behavior ranging from something as inconsequential as posting tasteless jokes to serious accusations of terrorism.

The general public is most familiar with — and likely to participate in — public shaming. It’s easy to get pulled into online mob mentality, especially when it appears that the accused person or people are clearly in the wrong. However, mistakes are made often, and innocent people are hurt by the fallout. The ethics of this behavior is something adults and students must explore and address. Are members of your school community taking a serious look at this?

You don’t need to wait until a designated week during the school year to get started. Use these questions now as a springboard to launch ongoing discussions about your school site’s digital citizenship program for adults and students and how you can make it more effective.

Read the article by Susan Brooks-Young on the Center for Digital Education at http://www.centerdigitaled.com/blog/is-your-digital-citizenship-program-up-to-snuff.html

An experienced teacher and administrator, Susan Brooks-Young now works with educators internationally, focusing on practical technology-based strategies for personal productivity and effective technology implementation in classrooms. Mobile technologies and BYOD programs are areas of particular interest for her.  

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