Friday, January 17, 2014

Being a Good (Digital) Citizen

Though I missed the bi-weekly #OOE13 Twitter chat this week, the end of the conversation brought a blog prompt that I thought I would take the group up on. As I move toward having my BYOD students work more and more online (and as I find myself making a bigger and bigger digital footprint), this is something I find myself thinking about quite a bit.

Here is the prompt:

To give a bit of perspective, previous questions in the conversation covered: How do we teach students about digital citizenship and digital literacy? How do we keep students safe as they explore new tools? How do we teach them about the pervasiveness of the things posted online?

Perhaps the best way is by example. There have been many pictures over the past few months asking people to "like or share so that my students/daughter/grandkids can see how quickly photos can spread online!" Within hours, the number of views skyrockets. A powerful message, but to me that always seemed artificial - sure, information can spread like wildfire online, but especially so when its sole purpose is to be spread by everyone who sees it.

I would prefer to show them how material can be distributed organically - with no push to get it out there. There have been a number of great examples recently of how quickly information of any kind can be circulated online.

The two examples that come to mind from this past week alone are the New Brunswick mother who wrote on her blog about how her three-year-old daughter experienced the extraordinary kindness of a stranger on a recent plane trip (the entry had over 69,000 likes on Facebook, and over 600 comments on the blog itself), and the Ontario widower who (almost anonymously) paid for the meal of a young couple at a restaurant, leaving them a sweet note on a napkin and asking them to pay it forward (the story made national news, with copies of a photo of the note accompanying the headlines).

In both these cases, what strikes me is that the original acts - the ones now being advertised and passed at incredibly high speed from person-to-person all over the world - were not digital. Patience demonstrated on a plane flight; a handwritten note on a napkin. Not being anywhere close to a computer at the time, I don't imagine that either of these gentlemen expected their actions to be seen by thousands, if not millions, of people.

As much as I don't want to scare my students, or lead them to believe that Big Brother is constantly watching (whether or not he actually is, is another matter), everything we do these days can become online content. With the pervasiveness of cameras, and the ease with which almost anybody can connect, is it even reasonable to expect privacy while out in public anymore?

So is the risk of putting students online even more, too much? Should we leave digital citizenship to the "experts?" No. We, as teachers, should continue teaching students to be good citizens - online, in public, and in private, because what they do in the digital world and the analog world is becoming interchangeable.

What are the consequences for teachers? We extend what we have been doing, for generations of students already, to the online world and the interactions therein. 

We model good behaviour in our online help sessions with them, and good behaviour in the halls between classes. We warn them about providing too much personal information (in many contexts), and we teach them to be kind. We gently correct, point out effective avenues to pursue, demonstrate patience, and offer advice (both when asked and when we feel it is needed!) in all media.

As the digital world becomes intermixed with the real world - and eventually becomes the real world - the lessons don't change, just the medium. The benefits of connecting our students far outweigh the disadvantages, and we'll continue teaching every step of the way. 


  1. Heather, great, thought-provoking post! I really agree that teaching digital citizenship is not only about what we do online. I like your point that anything can be made digital, so we should teach students to be good citizens, overall. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I agree with Andrea that this was a thought-provoking post that shows how offline acts can become part of one's online presence. Students need to understand that privacy has become a more fraught and tenuous concept. Not teaching them about digital citizenship and its consequences is not a choice because as you point out the offline and online worlds interweave seamlessly. I also agree that teachers can be 'the experts.' If we expect students to use online sources and the internet in homework and class work, then teachers need to learn what digital citizenship is so we can ensure that students are being mature digital citizens.

    2. Thanks for your thoughtful comments :) I didn't fully realize how little we actually *teach* students about digital citizenship until I polled my grade 10 (15-16 years old) class last week about what they had learned in other courses. The answer? NOTHING. As a high school teacher, I struggle with teaching what I perceive as "common sense" (elementary teachers likely do this more, I imagine :) ). I'll continue to model, and hopefully find nice places to insert mini-lessons here and there about our digital footprint.


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