21st Century Learning

8 Tips and Tools for Teaching Digital Citizenship

Cory HurstWe have all seen or heard about it: the celebrity who posts a revealing photo, a politician who tweets a racist remark or the athlete who makes poor decisions and proceeds to document it all on social media. When these posts hit the Web, the world reacts with outrage and disbelief. A short while later, these posts will be taken down and an apology will be in its place. For the most part, the celebrity, politician or athlete is forgiven, and the world moves on. If celebrities’ obscene posts get such negative attention, then why do we continue to see our youth act in such inappropriate ways on the Internet? My answer is a simple one: a lack of digital citizenship.

Digital citizenship must be taught from a young age, and from many different angles. Teaching students every aspect of online behavior and etiquette can be daunting. To make this necessary process less intimidating, I have compiled a list of four tips and four tools that will allow every educator to create lessons and units that can help make all of your students better digital citizens. First, the tips.

Begin Early
First and foremost, you must think about when you begin digital citizenship education. With technology increasingly available to younger kids, we as teachers need to reach our students with proper digital citizenship training in the primary grades. That being said, many older students have not received such an education and could benefit from it dramatically, too.

Create Dialogue and Learn from Your Students
Trying to understand your students’ technology use without speaking to them is a shot in the dark. Teachers can alleviate misunderstandings, develop better lessons and create a more engaged classroom by simply listening to what our students have to say. Maybe it’s an in-class dialogue, or maybe it’s an anonymous survey. Whatever the method, you need to do to understand the technology use patterns of your students, good and bad.

Learn and Share with Fellow Educators
Since you are reading this article, I can assume that you are the type of educator who wishes to grow in your field by learning and sharing with others. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues may not think that digital citizenships is as important as we do. But here’s the thing: Just as with any other lesson or unit that we teach, we can’t simply teach digital citizenship out of the blue, in isolated lessons. Learning and sharing with your fellow educators will improve the scope and depth of what you can teach your students.

Stay Informed
Finally, staying informed is the most common sense and all-encompassing tip. Not only do you need to stay informed on best practices for teaching digital citizenship, but, most importantly, you must stay up-to-date on your students’ technology use. What technology are they using? How are they using it? Are they using it in productive or destructive ways? How can you address the problems and promote good use?

Here are four tools that can help but these tips into action.

Google Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum
Digital citizenship education should be about protecting our students online. Google has partnered with iKeepSafe to develop a series of lessons that have students focus on checking the validity of sources, manage their digital footprint and develop the ability to protect themselves against scams.

Common Sense Education and Remind: Digital Citizenship Starter Kit
Common Sense Education and Remind have teamed up to build a weeklong unit that teaches the importance of safe digital communication, while also introducing the teacher, students and parents to Remind’s new tool, Chat. So, while you are teaching a well-structured, age-specific, unit on digital citizenship, you are also learning how to use Chat, a tool will be incredibly beneficial to your classroom communication beyond the unit.

Filled with lessons that include videos, articles and activities, InCtrl from Cable Impacts teaches key digital citizenship concepts. This series of lessons is geared towards grades 4 through 8. Focusing on this age group makes sense. As I mentioned above, the earlier you reach your students with digital citizenship education, the better.

Digizen has a wealth of resources that touch on topics from safe social networking to protecting your students from cyberbullying. While there are resources for teachers, Digizen has also provided information aimed at parents and students. While we as teachers can do everything in our power to teach digital citizenship, we are but one part of the puzzle of safe online activity.

Protection. This is the key word you must always keep in mind while teaching digital citizenship to your students. By working with parents and students, our main objective is the protection of our students online. Through proper education and oversight of online activity, we can help ensure that our students use the Web in fun, safe, and productive ways.

About the Author

Cory Hurst is a secondary social studies teacher. He has a BA in History Education and a MA in Educational Technology, both from Michigan State University. He currently teaches middle school history at iCademy Middle East and resides in Spain.