We recently held our first Digital Citizenship Week at my school. Some colleagues and myself felt this was necessary given the amount of time our students now spend online. Ideally, of course, digital citizenship would be a routine part of all classes where technology is prevalent or widely used, and many teachers do incorporate it where possible. However, we thought that it was important to raise the profile of this topic, and so Digital Citizenship Week was born. The timing was ideal, since we had just produced an acceptable use policy for technology, which was distributed at a Parents’ Day shortly before digital citizenship week. This set out clearly what was expected of our students as they go about their daily use of technology in their learning. There were also digital citizenship posters prominently displayed in each classroom.
Throughout the week, a number of teachers volunteered to forego their usual subject classes in order to teach lessons around digital citizenship. In this way, each grade level received a lesson about a particular aspect of digital citizenship. For example, I delivered a lesson around over-sharing online, based in part on materials from a very helpful organisation, Common Sense Media. Other teachers discussed issues around ensuring good digital footprints, and the responsible use of social media. One colleague had the misfortune to have a great lesson planned, only to open the website he planned to use during the class and find that it was down for routine maintenance. The patience and good-humour required when these things happen is an often overlooked aspect of digital citizenship!
Although it seems self-evident that we should be educating our students in issues around digital citizenship, there are a few other aspects to consider. Digital citizenship means different things to different people. One definition, from Teachthought.com, is ‘the self-monitored habits that sustain and improve the digital communities you enjoy or depend on’. Others have suggested that when we talk about digital citizenship, in the main we are referring to digital responsibility, a slightly different set of competencies, and when speaking of digital citizenship we should be encouraging learners to champion debate, justice, and equality via their online interactions. There are also, however, some valid arguments made that digital citizenship is so fundamentally important that we should drop the ‘digital’ part entirely, and simply include it as part and parcel of citizenship education. How many of our learners don’t go online at least once a day? How many of them use social media regularly, or download music, or play online games? Do they even make a distinction between the ‘real world’ and the online world?
However we choose to term it, we have a responsibility to our learners to guide them and help them to negotiate cyberspace safely and responsibly. Although some people may refer to millennials as ‘digital natives’, can we really assume that they are instinctively digitally literate, equipped to deal with everything the connected world may throw at them? I’m not convinced that we can, and so for now at least I think that we need to continue raising the profile of digital citizenship until it does become part of the everyday classroom conversation. I would welcome others’ views or thoughts about Digital Citizenship Week!