We often have the impression that children and teens are better than their parents and teachers at using technology, but this is not necessarily true. They are certainly quicker, they find technology more intuitive, and they may have knowledge that the adults in their lives lack, but that does not mean that digital natives are naturally perfect at using technology. They may have grown up with a smartphone in hand, but some aspects of using technology have to be taught.
Most students today use technology by instinct, without a full understanding of the consequences of the websites they visit and the content they post: in short, they lack digital citizenship skills. Digital citizenship is a broad term that includes all forms of appropriate online behaviour aimed at protecting oneself and others from the many threats that are present on the Internet: a good digital citizen knows how to avoid viruses and other malicious software, how to interact with other users correctly, how to distinguish reputable sources from misinformation and not commit plagiarism, and how to project a positive digital image for others to see.
Knowing the basics of how to operate a digital device may be an ability that most students already possess, but digital citizenship is an acquired skill and it is up to teachers to integrate effective digital citizenship lessons in their curriculum. Let’s see how.
Digital citizenship is not a subject
A school may offer specific IT courses, but digital citizenship is not limited to one specific class period. Confining the use of technology to a single class is an outdated model of teaching: digital citizenship must be taught across all subjects, not as a separate topic, but as a vital part of the work students do. If nothing else, the Internet has changed the way students do their research: whatever the subject, doing an essay or paper of any kind is an excellent opportunity to have a lesson within the lesson on how to recognise trustworthy websites and cite sources correctly in the finished work, which will be a great help to those in the class who intend to go on to higher education, where this is a basic requirement.
Simple actions we take for granted, such as doing a Google search, imply more skill than we realise: we need to choose effective keywords and discern relevant results from hundreds of thousands of links, both of which are not as simple as they look to someone with poor digital citizenship. Making the most of the technology at their disposal and not being fooled by the enormous wealth of misleading content they will inevitably find are abilities that need to be taught as early and as thoroughly as possible to students of all ages, who will be exposed to a great many dangers and not be functional adults if they lack a solid grounding in technology when they graduate.
Navigating social interactions
Using technology effectively and safely is only a part of digital citizenship: the other essential aspect of being a good digital citizen is interacting with others online in a civil manner and being aware of what others will think of you based on what you post.
In a world where children establish their online presence earlier and earlier, you can never be sure how old (or more to the point, how young) the person on the other end is: being polite, avoiding profanity and staying away from cyberbullying behaviour should be the baseline to make the Internet a safe place for all ages, and digital citizenship lessons can help avoid such incidents.
Another consequence of using technology early and irresponsibly is that young people often have a long, inappropriate history of posting compromising information about their lives on social media, from sensitive data that can be used to commit crimes, to personal posts made carelessly and without realising that they might cause future employers to reject them or take them less seriously. An integral part of teaching digital citizenship is discussing the increasingly important matter of maintaining one’s digital image.
Teaching digital citizenship helps both the students’ present and their future: a school that means to prepare them for their adult lives cannot do without.
What do you think about it? Do you think you are a good digital citizen? Let us know your opinion by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org!