This week at my school we are holding our first digital citizenship week. Some colleagues and myself felt this was necessary given the amount of time our students now spend online. The timing was ideal, since we have just produced an acceptable use policy for technology, which was distributed at a recent Parents' Day. Ideally, of course, digital citizenship would be a routine part of all classes where technology is prevalent or widely used. However, we felt that it was important to raise the profile of this topic, so digital citizenship week was born.
Throughout the week, a number of teachers have volunteered to turn their subject classes over to lessons around digital citizenship. In this way, each grade level will each receive a lesson about a particular aspect of digital citizenship. For example, I will be delivering a lesson around over-sharing online, based in part on materials from a very helpful organisation, Common Sense Media. Other teachers will be discussing issues around digital footprints.
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'. 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. 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 we talk of digital citizenship we should be encouraging learners to champion debate, justice, and equality via their online interactions.
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 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.