21st Century Learning

13 Resources To Help You Teach Digital Citizenship

These Web sites and books can guide districts in developing a comprehensive acceptable use policy that will give students the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Digital Citizenship

Today's students are firmly entrenched in the digital world, both in class and out. Although they are digital citizens, they don't always know what digital citizenship is. According to Mike Ribble, an author of books on the topic for both educators and parents, "digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use." Digital citizenship isn't all that different from the standard citizenship that all children need to know and understand; the challenge is applying those lessons to the digital environment. For instance, children are widely taught not to talk to strangers. This works pretty well on the street: Even very young kids can distinguish between the people they know and those they don't. Online, though, even adults are often fooled by people presenting false identities. The digital citizenship lesson here is that, although students may feel quite safe sitting in front of their computer screen in a classroom or at home, they are in fact in a public place.

Lockdown vs. Learning
Many districts' first response to regulations that seek to protect students online has been putting up Internet filters and firewalls — which also serve to protect the school, district and equipment. With so many students bringing their own devices, though, it is no longer enough for district IT personnel to lock down security on district machines. Classroom teachers, students and parents now play an important part in establishing and maintaining a secure digital learning environment. Teaching digital citizenship is a major element in any successful strategy.

According to Abbie Brown, a professor at East Carolina University and co-author of Security vs. Access: Balancing Safety and Productivity in the Digital School, teaching students digital citizenship is much more effective than attempting to control them. "Blocks, filters and other imposed security measures are at best only partially effective," he said. "Students are quick to find ways around barriers. The majority of a school's efforts should be focused on fostering responsible citizenship that extends to Internet use."

Extra Credit
Digital Citizenship Books
Digital Citizenship in Schools, Second Edition by Mike Ribble starts with a basic definition of the concept of digital citizenship, then moves on to an explanation of its relevance and importance. Ribble goes on to explore the nine elements of digital citizenship and provides audit and professional development activities to help educators determine how to go about integrating digital citizenship concepts into the classroom.

In Digital Community, Digital Citizen, author, educator and futurist Jason Ohler challenges all readers to redefine their roles as citizens in today's globally connected infosphere. His text aligns the process of teaching digital citizenship with the ISTE standards' definition, and uses an "ideal school board" device to address fears, opportunities and the critical issues of character education.

In From Fear to Facebook: One School's Journey, Matt Levinson shares his experience integrating a laptop program and how teachers, students and parents discovered, dealt with and overcame challenges. Honesty and insightful anecdotes make this a guide for districts looking for a path away from fear and into the future of education.

Security vs. Access: Balancing Safety and Productivity in the Digital Schoolby LeAnne Robinson, Abbie Brown and Timothy D. Green emphasizes the importance of balance in creating school environments that are safe and productive. The book provides educators, administrators and IT staff the information they need to have constructive conversations about security challenges while still making sure students receive an effective, technology-infused education.

Brown suggested bolstering security efforts by including other stakeholders. "Promoting responsible citizenship calls for a collaboration among administrators, parents, teachers and students," he said. "Students need to feel they have a voice in the process as well as understand the consequences of breaking trust.  A good example of this is the development of an acceptable use policy (AUP). When students have input into the policy they often place greater restrictions upon themselves than parents and teachers might, and they are more apt to adhere to the policy as well as positively promote the policy with their peers."

Brown pointed to a recent study by the Oxford Internet Institute and The Parent Zone on UK youth that indicates that it's far more effective to allow later elementary, middle and high school students to self-regulate their Internet use (with appropriate guidance from parents and teachers) than it is to attempt to control them using filters and blocks. Andrew Przbylski, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and lead author of the report, said, "Our findings indicate that good parenting, which allows children to still take risks and develop coping strategies, is integral to whether young people are able to make the most of the opportunities of the online world."

"It is just like the offline world," agreed Vicki Shotbolt, founder of The Parent Zone. "Parents have to agree on age-appropriate boundaries. We wouldn't let a child of four play on their own in the park, and it is entirely reasonable if you have a very young child to make a decision to filter some content," she added.

To Combat Cyberbullying, Create an AUP
Digital citizenship is more than just knowing what content is relevant and what is not. One of the hot-button topics of recent years has been cyberbullying. A complete digital citizenship curriculum should help students understand that their behavior on social media can be even more hurtful than the same behavior the real world. Likewise, they often assume incorrectly that because the person on the other end can't see them, that they are anonymous.

Extra Credit
Acceptable Use Policies
Common Sense Media offers free samples, guidelines and an exhaustive list of AUP resources.
CoSN has issued a refreshed AUP guide called "Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital."
NetCitizens includes a large number of resources and articles on AUPs and online safety.

Numerous studies have shown that being cyberbullied can have magnified effects because the victims are almost always alone and isolated during the event. Online bullying behavior also tends to persist because aggressors generally don't receive feedback letting them know they achieved their goal, whereas in a face-to-face encounter, the victim may cry or run away. The inability to escape and the higher level of personal attack can lead to devastating results for both victim and instigator.

Crafting a school- or district-wide AUP that is infused with digital citizenship concepts and developed with input from the entire community, students, teachers, parents, staff and administration can do more than simply provide a list of prohibited activities. Establishing a framework for discussing the issues of online behavior can lead to a sharp decrease in inadvertent security and ethics breaches by students and teachers. Knowing why certain rules are in place as well as the repercussions and penalties for breaking them can reduce intentional incidents as well, giving administrators, teachers and others a common framework for dealing with those problems.

Matt Levinson, Head of School for University Prep in Seattle and author of From Fear to Facebook: One School's Journey, offered this advice for other administrators leading the effort to create an AUP: "I think one of the most important elements to the writing of an AUP is that it does not turn into a list of 'don'ts.' Schools need to take the time to frame positive, actionable language that encourages positive behaviors. And the AUP needs to stand as a living document.  With that in mind, employing a Q&A format for the AUP allows it to be added to as new issues and questions arise. Additionally, avoiding the trap of trying to address every single issue is important; otherwise, the AUP becomes a kind of whack-a-mole document. Finally, the AUP, when crafted carefully and thoughtfully, can serve as a statement of philosophy for a school concerning its approach to digital citizenship."

As digital tools become more integrated into students' lives inside and outside the classroom, the kind of instruction manual that an AUP provides can help ensure that those tools get used properly. Digital citizenship is the centerpiece of any effort to write an AUP that will guide educators and their charges into a more efficient, safe and productive future.

You can see more great feature articles in the latest issue of our monthly digital edition.

Extra Credit
Digital Citizenship Web Sites
Common Sense Education provides teachers and schools with free research-based classroom tools to help students harness technology for learning and life.

This site run by Mike Ribble includes a number of resources, including the "9 Elements of Digital Citizenship" postulated by Ribble and Gerald Bailey.

NetFamilyNews is a free site based on the premise that informed parents and educators are key to a constructive public discussion about youth safety and well-being in digital spaces.

Safe Connects is different from other Internet safety programs because students use "straight talk" to discuss topics that are important to teens. This program has established a student-teaching-students-and-parents" model for school systems across the country.

SafeKids.com is one of the oldest and most enduring sites devoted to Internet safety. Its founder and editor, Larry Magid, is the author of the original National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's 1994 brochure, "Child Safety on the Information Highway."

Cable Impacts offers InCtrl, a series of free standards-based lessons, originally developed by Cable in the Classroom, that teach key digital citizenship concepts. These lessons, for students in grades 4- 8, are designed to engage students through inquiry-based activities and collaborative and creative opportunities.