Digital Citizenship’s New Imperative

Although most agree that online safety is critically important, historically it has proven to be an afterthought in educational technology. The development of new features and functionality often outpaces the mechanisms that ensure the safety and protection of students.

Perhaps a change is coming. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has started to shift the conversation around Digital Citizenship in a manner that will hopefully resolve student safety issues in the digital space.

According to ISTE, two misconceptions prevent Digital Citizenship from taking hold in the classroom.

The notion that digital citizenship “can be taught in just one lesson or school-wide assembly.”

As we’ve indicated in past posts, Digital Citizenship education is not merely a matter of helping students gain awareness of information. The brain doesn’t learn about Digital Citizenship the same way it learns to memorize times tables. Digital Citizenship requires a reorientation of desires, most importantly the desire to be kind to others. It’s about the formation of one’s character or moral horizon, not merely the formation of one’s ideas.

When is a student successfully educated on the subject of Digital Citizenship? It’s when the content takes hold of the student’s actions, and they treat their peers differently.

The focus should be put on what students should not be doing online, as opposed to what they should be doing.

There are advantages to the shift in focus on what students should do.

First, instead of being restrictive, the conversation is about empowering students to do good. Anyone who has worked with students will tell you that, practically speaking, empowering students to do some action is far more effective than prohibiting them from the action. Instead of compiling a list of “don’ts,” provide a list of actions that are healthy and mutually beneficial for the community of digital citizens.

Second, by focusing the conversation on what students should do, you create conditions within which there is higher moral and personal development. To restrain someone from bullying a peer is good; to be an encouragement to a peer is even better.

You might be wondering how this looks. The best way to educate students on what they should do is by making examples out of those students who do it well, instead of making examples out of those students who misbehave. Reward and praise students for their actions, and be sure to introspectively consider the example you’re setting for students through your actions.

While there will always be a need to tell students when they’ve done something wrong, be sure to additionally package the dialogue with a focus on what actions are right.