Digital Citizenship is a favorite topic of mine. As a high school administrator, this is a topic that comes up in multiple ways every single year. As this year gets ready to launch, I see this as a wonderful opportunity to take stock of what we currently do and set a few goals for the coming year.
Opportunities to Teach Digital Citizenship
At our school, our process for instilling good citizenship, digital or otherwise, is part of our DNA. Several years ago when digital citizenship became a hot topic, we immediately turned to Common Sense Media's education page to augment a program we already had in place for instructing our students on plagiarism. Over the last few years, we have worked to be sure all faculty know about Common Sense Media so that they can utilize the rich resources there as they build their own lessons that involve digital tools.
Meanwhile, our Director of College and Career Counseling has worked into her materials information about proper behavior, especially on social media, as our students apply to colleges and universities, internships, and even summer jobs. I am a strong supporter of students hear the same message from different adults on a regular basis. What your classroom teacher says about not plagiarizing on your blog for an assignment may not resonate, but the same example used to point out how you can sabotage your dream internship application just might be the ticket to keeping a student on "the straight and narrow".
A current colleague and a former colleague have also presented multiple times at conferences on the idea of Digital Dossiers. This to me is such a powerful message for educators and students. Our digital footprint isn't going away, it is only getting bigger--and more permanent! So the sooner we can learn and implement appropriate best practices, the more prepared our students will be to function in the world that they are inheriting.
What is our role?
This brings me to a point that I can't emphasize enough: We need to model appropriate behavior for our students. Just as we expect sports stars, celebrities, politicians, and anyone else in the public eye, to comport themselves appropriately at all times (including on social media), we need to do the same. For many of our students, we ARE celebrities. We might be the best example of adult behavior that they have in their lives. So we do NOT have the luxury of posting a picture from our summer vacation of us at a pool party that looks like it could be Spring Break in Cabo. This army image is one of the best visuals I have seen that captures this idea:
As with everything else that we do when instructing students, we need to model. We show them what a good essay looks like, we give them a template for where their name and date belong on an assignment that they are handing in. We monitor the words they use in the classroom and on the playground, we have rules about what clothes they wear to school. And we follow all of these guidelines as well because we understand that we are responsible for establishing the proper learning culture in our school communities. If we take so many other aspects of learning seriously enough, why does social media get a pass?
Digital Citizenship is still Citizenship!
Several years ago, Diane Main introduced me to the concept of a "digital tattoo". Most of us probably think of our
digital cookie crumbs as a digital footprint. However, footprints can disappear over time. Tattoos on the other hand, are permanent unless they are painfully removed and even then, there is still a shadow of the original tattoo left. Digital tattoos are what I want students (and adults) to think about when they think about what they put out into the ether, via social media or otherwise. We all, every single one of us, have a responsibility to our fellow humans to be caring and compassionate, to be honest and truthful, and to be thoughtful. Everything we do is remembered by someone, and everything that we post digitally exists somewhere, even if you delete a post. We know this. How do we teach our students this? Some see screens as providing anonymity, but anyone who has been "caught" for posting something negative knows otherwise. When we speak to a person face-to-face, we tend to be gentler because we can't bear the idea of hurting them irreparably. That is a human response. Even writing emails, I tend to reread them multiple times before hitting "send" (and I still use the Unsend feature on a regular basis!) because I want to be sure the words are clear, compassionate, and appropriate--the same things I do in an actual conversation. I don't believe that there should be a distinction between "digital" citizenship and "citizenship". It is all part of our communication patterns and we need to be sure that we are always striving to be good citizens in every aspect of our communication and interaction with others.
This year, to keep a strong emphasis on the idea of digital citizenship, it is going to be folded into a monthly challenge for the faculty. This is an important step with respect to making sure our education is fully preparing our students. This really came to my attention when our BrightBytes survey results indicated that while faculty believe they are doing a better job of teaching digital citizenship, the student data reflects the opposite. Of course, many factors could account for this disparity. But for me, making digital citizenship a clear priority will hopefully reverse this trend as students experience more intentional instruction around their online behavior.
I also hope that our Tech Liaisons (a group of student leaders focused specifically on the integration of technology on campus) can get a better understanding of what shifted from the student perspective, allowing us to modify our curriculum and better help students to understand the expectations of digital citizenship.
This is a topic that clearly isn't going away anytime soon so I would love to learn about how your school tackles citizenship. The more we share our best practices with each other, the more effective we all become at ensuring that the next generation of students are ready for the challenges that they will face.