Digital Citizenship: Cultivating Character in a Connected World
The golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” never goes out of fashion. Whether you are on a playground playing hopscotch, at a restaurant with your family or having an online conversation, displaying character and compassion are what makes us innately human. As parents and educators, having a face-to-face conversation with children about a bully on the playground was a reality we used to live in. Today, tomorrow and years into the future our playground encapsulated by a measured fence has suddenly become the online world, its reach beyond the boundaries of our schools, homes and even communities. The question becomes, “How can we guide students in lessons of Digital Citizenship?”
This reality, however, monitored, is a fact that is forcing our schools and families to answer the question, “How can we be proactive in this digital age rather than reactive?” Having worked the last few years as an Instructional Technology Facilitator in grades 3-12, I was unprepared for the challenge of crossing over citizenship practices in schools and classrooms in the digital online world. Making assumptions that it is a natural alignment was my first mistake. All too often a barrier to effective technology integration to support student learning is just that, integration. Often viewed as an add-on or separate from pedagogy, Digital Citizenship can suffer the same fate as educational technology. Fundamentals were not ensuring each child had a device that was set up properly and teachers a list of approved apps to explore but student affective behaviors and foundations built to empower them on the beginning of their digital journeys that would last and evolve over a lifetime.
This year, we have continued this work in mapping out a yearlong plan that involves all stakeholders and a common language to share a common purpose. Propelling this work even further was the amazing opportunity to participate in the Google Innovator Program last October in Sweden. The Google Innovator Program provided just what my passion for Digital Citizenship needs; a forum for communicating, collaborating, creating around this topic in education; more importantly the chance to innovate for a bigger purpose. I am excited to take this challenge forward in my Innovator Project and continue to collaborate with other educators on ways to continue to make character count in a connected world and how to involve students in the process. I look forward to this journey and cannot wait to see what the year will bring. Stay tuned!
For now, here are the 5 Ways to begin cultivating the big picture of Digital Citizenship with your school, community, and students.
5 Ways to Cultivate Digital Citizenship this School Year
1. Utilize Digital Tools for Building Classroom/School Culture and Environment
Highlight community building around expectations and procedures by including students in the process while participating in an online environment. By providing a platform like Seesaw to promote student voice and ownership in classroom culture, teachers can cultivate best online practices aligned with their beginning of the year positive classroom climate building.
Application: Have students define what their classroom mantra/expectations should be by answering the questions: What does good citizenship look like and sound like? What do we want our classroom to look like and sound like? Then, have students post on Seesaw and comment on each other’s ideas while modeling how to comment in an appropriate way highlighting digital communication best practices.
2. The 5th and 6th C: Compassion and Community
Use digital tools and online platforms like Flipgrid to give students the opportunity to see the power of the internet in a connected world. Have a problem or challenge in your school or community? Give students the tools and guidance to solve these real-world problems while utilizing digital tools in a Project Based Learning Format.
3. Keeping it Real and Relevant
By utilizing digital tools in an online environment aligned with lessons, units and projects, teachers can begin to model and scaffold how character transcends just physical space and interactions. Students can begin to make the connections between their actions in “real-life” and face-face contact is not much different than their online interactions with each other. We all strive to connect with others, be heard, and appreciated as human beings, no matter if on a playground or on the internet.
Application: Not just one more thing to add, Digital Citizenship and Character can be highlighted and integrated with the integration of EdTech. Provide opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, critically think and create online, whatever the learning task or outcome. The more we give students access to digital tools in online environments, the more “teachable” moments we create for ourselves as educators. Instead of teaching to the traits of good digital citizens, students can live it.
4. Not a One-Hit Wonder
Schools and teachers are really good at providing foundational lessons imperative to a student’s success. Digital Citizenship and Character is no different. No matter a student’s situation at home, schools have risen to the challenge of providing more than just a test score for students’ well-being. Digital Citizenship and Character is an all-hands-on-deck movement. The assumption that all families have the tools and resources to tackle the Digital World with their child is a dangerous one. By involving schools, communities, teachers, students and families in the year-long and year-year conversations and strategy/skill building, we ensure that our future generations can navigate in an increasingly undefined, broad and connected world.
Application: Involve families and provide resources by having a Family EdTech Night. Have students help plan the night and market it to their families. Integrate and align school-wide, district initiatives such as PBIS, Safe and Supportive Schools and Social Emotional Learning to Digital Citizenship. Involve and invite teacher leaders, teacher-librarians, administrators and counselors in what this looks like for your school, classrooms, and students.
5. It is All About ME
It is all about the students. Empower students to be a part of this process that they are living every day by giving them space and place to share their voice. Whether coming up with ideas for their school and classroom to promote Digital Citizenship or utilizing tools such as Common Sense Media for themselves, the more we give students the mic, the more aligned and authentic our lessons and efforts become. The old, “What you do while no-one is watching” stands even truer when watching and monitoring becomes more and more difficult in an online environment. Let’s equip students with the skills to navigate by allowing them opportunities to being decision makers for themselves in a safe, encouraging environment like school now instead of later.
Through mistakes, failures, and successes these past few years, I have a renowned sense of urgency to advocate for students to have a voice and access to foundational skills to navigate a digital world for a greater good; for themselves or others. The power of the pencil as an author stands true in an online world and unlike an author who goes through the laborious writing process, an author online can communicate their message with a push of a button. The inherent power in utilizing the internet for good is our paramount duty as educators and parents to instill in children.
Instructional Technology Facilitator
Google Certified Trainer and Innovator