Thursday, April 18, 2013

Digital Native ≠ Digitally Literate: Why the "non-natives" need to actively teach about technology use.

"Why do we even need technology classes? These kids are born using technology."
"I can't teach them anything new, they know more than me!"
"Asking me to teach a class about technology is like asking asking Mother Theresa to teach a class on selfishness!"

Kids today are introduced to technology nearly from the moment they are born, and it will be part of their lives until the day they die. Hand any kid a smart phone, tablet, or computer, and they can do more with it in five minutes than most adult can in years. Remember when we were kids? Who did our parents get to program the VCR, the microwave clock, or the clock on the car radio? Remember, we are/were more technologically savvy than our parents, yet they were able to teach us something. Like don't put a PB&J sandwich in the VCR and no metal in the microwave. Or if you were my sister, when you cook the frozen pancakes, 1:30 means 1 minute & 30 seconds, NOT 13 minutes (they catch on fire).

But just because a student can use the technology in front of them does not mean that they are using it effectively or ethically. It is our job as parents and teachers to ensure that our students get the best possible use out of technology while keeping themselves and others safe.

1. Teach them respect for copyright

Most of us teach our students and children that it is wrong to steal. Taking something from another person or business is wrong and we know that. But how many people do you know that don't think twice about downloading movies or music without paying for it? If you are not downloading it from a properly authorized site where the copyright owner has approved a free download or you are paying for the download, it is theft. And the RIAA is getting VERY aggressive in pursuing those who do download illegally.

Providers to begin warning illegal downloaders.
RIAA-Online Piracy

Additionally, teach them how to properly quote and cite their sources. Everyday, I see students just cutting and pasting information from websites into reports and posts. Their is no rephrasing or quoting, and definitely no citation. We are raising a generation that has no respect for the intellectual property of others.

2. Teach them that the things said online or in a text still hurt.

Have you ever watched a pack of dogs, or any other animal, go after one of their group? A ring leader will start it, and when the others see that the one being attacked is not fighting back or that it is weaker, they all jump in? Human beings are no different, and it is not just the kids. 

For some reason, we seem to have this idea that the things we say and do online are not in the real world. Think about it. Have you ever sent an email, a text, or posted something on social media that you would have NEVER said to a person's face? We have all done it. I am usually a very nice and tolerant person in person...but sometimes my online personality takes over and I make the Wicked Witch of the West look like a pussycat. I have had to set a rule fr myself that I have to write anything scathing and walk away for an hour. If it still seems like a good idea, I leave it for another day. The third time, after edits, if it still needs to be sent THEN I send it.

It is never okay to pick on someone. That does not mean you always have to agree. But saying and doing things that are meant to hurt others is just wrong. We need to teach this to our children and model it in our behavior. We are all guilty of teaching the kids we influence to be mean and judgmental, and we don't even realize how many times a day we do it. Just think when little ears are around, especially those tween/teen ears.

Want to know if you might be guilty of some bullying? Check out this quiz:

Stop CyberBullying - Are you a CyberBully?

3. Not everything on the internet is true!

Just like you cannot always trust the news to be truthful, many websites have misinformation and some are just flat out lies. Teach your students and children (and parents!) to check their sources. If they cannot find multiple, reliable sources verifying the information, it is probably not true. Here are some great examples:

DHMO Imnformation
Pacific Northwest Tree Octupus

4. Make sure your sources are not biased.

Why is the person or organization posting the information posting it? Doing research about if red meat is bad for you on the PETA website is probably not a good idea, nor should you be looking at the beef producers website. At least not exclusively. Teach your students and children to think for themselves, question WHY someone would post this information, and to read several view points before coming to their own conclusion. 

5. Once it's posted online or sent through a text or email, it is out of your control.

I do a unit on sexting in my high school Digital Citizenship class. Every quarter, at least one student runs out of the room in tears when I talk about this. Why? They do not realize the potential ramifications of their actions and when they are made aware of them, it is upsetting. Sending messages/pictures through text, email, or on a website can have long lasting effects and even legal ramifications. 

Many people assume that if you delete a text, it is gone and that you can trust the person you sent it to. Or that if you delete a picture off of Facebook/MySpace/Flickr/Instagram/etc., it is gone. The truth is, once it is in the digital world, it can hang around forever and you will no longer have control of it.

When you send a text message, you no longer control what happens to it. The person receiving it can save it, delete it, forward it. And if they forward it, what happens then? This is a great video that I use with my student to get the point across:

Your Photo Fate

In addition to the fact that you cannot control it, there are additional concerns. Many providers store the contents of text messages that can be subpoenaed by the courts. Depending on your provider and the state you live in, for those under 18, parents and guardians may be able to get copies of that content without a court order. And let's not even start talking about the potential legal consequences for those sexting under age 18. Just make sure you are making your children and students aware that the things they do in the digital world are NOT private.

Then there is the online world. Just because you remove a photo from the internet does not mean it is gone. Other people may have copied or downloaded it or thumbnails have been created for web browsers. You never know what has happened to your picture once you post it. And other people can download and spread it in the time it takes you to put it up and remove it. Just think before you post. As Phineas and Ferb say "Fame is fleeting, but the internet is forever!"

6. Use technology responsibly and respectfully.

It is not always polite or even permitted to use cell phones or tablets. Teach your students and children that there is a time and place for everything. School (unless directed otherwise by the classroom teacher) and work are no place for the cell phones to be out. The world will not end if they do not immediately respond to a text or Facebook post from a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend. And if those people cannot accept that they have to put school or work first, it enters a whole other realm of potential cyber relationship abuse (I'll cover that another time!). The movie theater is not the place to be texting. It disturbs the people around you. Talking so loud that everyone in the restaurant or bus can hear you is not okay. Walking down the street texting is also not wise. I actually had a student mugged and another one jumped and beat up this year while walking and texting. They were so wrapped up in their phones that they were unaware what was going on in the world around them. 

And it's not just the kids. I have to watch myself. I get so wrapped up in what is on Facebook or, I ignore my husband while we are riding in the car. And it's not just those of us 40 something and younger, either. My dad is always complaining that whenever he and my mother go somewhere, she is more focused on the phone than him. The fact is, it's rude. You're telling the people in your life (who you are supposed to love) that your friends' and acquaintances' cat pictures are more important than spending time with them. Sometimes you have to put the tech down and interact with the world around you. 

But the most important thing you can teach them about technology and life is

7. Don't take it all so seriously.

Oops. You screwed up. You put your  BFF on Facebook blast and they aren't talking to you. Your BF/GF sent that "private" picture to all their friends. Someone has been sending you mean text messages. Sometimes things we don't like happen in this life and it sucks. But is it really worth getting angry, upset, or suicidal over?

Teach your students and children (heck, even yourself) to love yourself and like who you are. Help them learn to be someone who is comfortable with themselves, that is concerned about other people, but not so wrapped up in what other people think that teasing will make them consider suicide. Teen suicide is on the rise and online bullying/harassment is being blamed. Who knows if having the "don't take it all so seriously" conversation would help all of the kids who have committed suicide due to bullying, but if even one is stopped, it helps. Help your kids accept that we all make mistakes, there are consequences, but it's not bad enough to kill yourself over. Given time, it will get better.

Yes, our kids know more about technology than we do. But just assuming that they will learn what they need to at school or believing that they "know" how to behave online can have devastating consequences. So talk to your children and your students. Teach them how to be responsible digital citizens and help them learn how to accept their mistakes and learn from them. Digital natives or not, the youth that we influence in our lives need to be taught and shown what is expected of them with this incredibly powerful tool. And if you ever think your cell phone is not that powerful, realize most of use are carrying in our POCKETS more computing power than what was used to put a man on the moon!

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