Friday, February 21, 2014

Digital Citizenship - Who should be teaching it?

Who is responsible for teaching youth to be safe online? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of their parents? Why can't they wait until they get in high school and learn it as an elective class? Digital citizenship doesn't really have an effect on my classroom...

The questions, statements, and arguments about digital citizenship go on forever. The subject is nearly as controversial as sex ed (sexting is a dig cit issue) and the arguments about who should be teaching it are heated.

The question we should be asking ourselves as educators is this, "If we don't teach this, who will?" Sex ed, we can ASSUME that a parent is capable of having that discussion with their children, at least about the basics. If they have had children, they at least know what sex is. The information may not be the best or most accurate, but at least they should be capable of providing SOME information, or at least we would hope.

When it comes to online behavior, safety, avoiding scams, etc., I can tell you from experience, most parents are clueless. Even parents who are reasonably digitally savvy. All you have to do to verify this is watch the FB posts or forwarded emails from friends who you assume are reasonably intelligent and have been using computers for more than a few years. 

How many of you have seen this shared? Or something similar? Maybe you have shared it yourself. The same rules that apply to life apply double to the Internet, if it sounds too good to be true, it is! Bill Gates is not giving everyone who likes his picture money. There are no free XBoxes, and that Disney page with only 300 likes is NOT the real Disney page and you aren't getting free tickets to Disneyland. That cute boy that says he is 14 is actual a 41 year old online predator (Online Sex Offender). That hot 14 year old girl who sent a fried request to your teenage son? It is an adult TEACHER who is a sexual predator (Young Girl is Predatory Teacher ). Things on the Internet are not always what they seem, and many parents are not aware of the dangers. So it is up to us, the educators, to learn everything we can and share that knowledge with our students.

There are other reasons that may require teaching digital citizenship to our students. Does your school receive eRate funds to help pay for your Internet? Then as of July 2012, it became required for your students to receive digital citizenship education. 

 The April 19, 2012 FCC Report 11-125, second page, under the heading Rules That the Commission Amended added this: 

The report continues on to tell what it expects the schools to do to implement this:

For more information, you can access the report here:

Failure to comply with this can adversely affect a schools eRate funding. And we thought the Department of Education was the only government entity that had a say in our classroom.

So we have been told that we, as educators, are supposed to teach dig cit. But WHICH educator should be teaching digital citizenship? In our school, it is easy. Digital Citizenship is a required course, and a pre-requisite to ALL other CTE courses (which make up the bulk of our elective courses). I teach this course, and when a student is enrolled, they put the students in my class as soon as it is available. I cover everything from computer basics (since many of our students have had little to no education in computers), using Google search properly, sexting, cyberbullying, social networking, digital footprints, online relationships (we also cover dating abuse in this), and copyright & fair use. By the time the students leave my class, they have a good understanding of what it means to participate in the online world.

But what if your school doesn't offer a course like this? Maybe computers is a once a week special and they only learn how to use applications and software. Maybe a digital citizenship course if offered, but not required. Maybe no one has even discussed this in your school. Then it is time for you to step up and start the discussion. The best case scenario, in my opinion, is a required course that all students take, no matter what age. In elementary school, the course could be as simple a few 30 minute lessons on being safe online. We used to learn about Stranger Danger. Now it is time to teach about Stranger Danger on the computer. Middle school students could learn this in another required class, like health or PE. When it comes to protecting a students from predators, sexting mistakes, and bullying, this makes a PE or health class a natural fit. High school students need to take a full course in this that is more in depth and really talks about the uncomfortable issues (predators, sexting, abusive online relationships, cyberbullying). Again, in my opinion, every high school students should be required to take at least a 1/2 credit course on digital citizenship.

Digital Citizenship is not just about avoiding predators, not being charged with child pornography for sexting (Sexting Teens Risk Child Pornography Charges), recognizing an abusive or controlling relationship, or how to deal with online bullies. Students MUST be taught about the long-term effect of the things they do online. Employers, colleges, future partners; they all look up everything they can about us online. The things that are done as a 15/16 year old have long lasting effects. That picture of a student with a beer in their hand has just cost them a college scholarship. The sext a  then 16 year old girl sent to her boyfriend is now on a revenge website and her potential new boss just found it. The parents of the girl he was going to ask to marry him found the pictures of him smoking a bong. The things that our students put on the Internet are permanent, and once it is put out their, they no longer have control. Even an embarrassing picture that is deleted may have been screen captured by someone else. Now there are even apps and websites that are making worse by implying that users are completely anonymous or that pictures are "deleted" after a set period of time. NOTHING on the Internet is private. These are the things that teens and tweens do not consider when they go online. That is why we, as educators, need to make them aware of the online dangers. 

Okay, now what? Talk to your administration. Come up with a plan to educate students. Then implement the plan. Don't know WHAT to teach students? There is a plethora of great resources available, just Google it. But some of my favorite resources are included below.

Common Sense Media This website provides a complete curriculum for every grade level, including lesson plans, assignments, videos, etc.

MTV A Thin Line This source if more appropriate for high school students. It has a lot of videos about various digital citizenship subjects, interviews with celebrities, and a very good movie, (Dis)Connected, that covers all the major issues with social media.

NBC Dateline - To Catch a Predator Again, more for high school students. Some of the information in the clips is VERY raw. Very good online safety kit.

Stop CyberBullying This website has a great personal assessment that allows students to review their own online behavior.

What is Digital Abuse This whole website is about dating, but this particular page is a great guide to helping students identify potentially abusive digital relationships.

CyberBullying Research Center Great resource for middle school and high school about cyberbullying. Includes worksheets and activities.

Digital Footprint Teaching Guide Created by an educator. Includes videos and activities to help teach about digital footprints. Middle to high school.

There are many, many more great resources. Find what works for you and your student population. But start the discussion somewhere. The digital world is our "home", for the foreseeable future. Our students must learn how to be good digital citizens so they can not only survive, but THRIVE in this world. And WE must be the ones leading the way.

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