Students as Digital Citizens

“Digital citizen” may seem like an odd term to many people. It seems to connote extensive use of technology and belonging specifically to an online community. The simple fact is if you’ve got an email address or participate in any sort of activity online, you are a digital citizen. This means, that in the advent of incorporating more and more technology into the classroom, students are digital citizens as well. But if the goal is to teach them to be a part of the world, shouldn’t their education include how to be a digital citizen? And what do it mean to be a “good” one?

Internet etiquette is all sorts of ambiguous. For every situation, you can probably find thousands of answers on how you should deal with it. With no written or rules agreed upon by the majority of society it’s hard to understand what we should be doing, let alone what we ought to teach students to do. There is a tendency to separate oneself from one’s actions simply because they are taking place in a digital format – so how do we teach kids that digital behavior is a part of real-life behavior, and not a separate entity all together?

Well, we could start with privacy. As long as they’ve been exposed to computers, kids have been being told not to give out any personal information online. Which is smart and safe. But then boundaries must be established in the face of potential online communities like pen pals or other student focused online activities. A system of verification must be in place so that kids can distinguish the difference between embracing the communicative potential of the internet, and putting themselves in potential danger. What might seem intuitive to an adult online, might not be so obvious to a child; it’s something that must be explained. So, the first guideline could be: preserve your privacy and that of others.

From privacy, we can jump right to respect. There have been countless recent stories of kids plagued by cyber-bullying. It’s a tragic consequence of that distancing online behavior again. Students ought to be taught that their actions online have real consequences, and even not being able to experience those consequences firsthand doesn’t make them any less serious. This respect idea comes in with privacy as well. In the same way we don’t want kids giving out their information, we don’t want them giving out the personal information of people they know either. So, while there are a fair share of “robots” on the internet, most people are real people. Real people with the potential to do good or do harm, or be hurt by something which occurs because of others online. If we teach students to respect everyone on the internet, a lot of these issues can be prevented.

The last one we think is important to mention: balancing time between being a digital citizen and a citizen of the world. Cultivating online skills and communities is fantastic, but experiencing things out in the world is equally as important!

What do you think? What guidelines should students be given to help navigate the complex world of the internet?