Go to Twitter and search #digcit. You will find interesting discussions and credible accounts to follow regarding digital citizenship. You will also find many educators and accounts sharing information about digital citizenship, for example:
- ISTE – “3 ways to weave digital citizenship into your curriculum”
- Common Sense Education – DigCit Webinar
This is an important topic for all educators, regardless of subject area. This week in EC&I 832 we were asked to reflect on the role teachers and schools have in educating students about digital citizenship, our current practices and how to address digital citizenship in the future.
In November 2013, the Saskatchewan Government released the Saskatchewan Action Plan to Address Bullying and Cyberbullying. The action plan included six recommendations, including: Support Students to Develop Responsible and Appropriate Online Behaviour.
In response to these recommendations, the Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools was created to assist schools and teachers. The guide was intended to respond to the following action:
Similar to the Saskatchewan, other provinces have created digital citizenship guides and resources to support teachers and schools. A few examples:
- Digital Citizenship Policy Development Guide (2012) – Alberta
- Digital Literacy – British Columbia
- Digital Citizenship – Manitoba
- Promoting Digital Citizenship – Ontario
With all of these resources available, it is easy to see that policy makers and schools divisions believe that providing digital citizenship resources is important. There are many suggestions and recommendations for providing instruction to students in our schools, but there is no plan to hold teachers accountable to incorporate these teachings. So what should be the role of teachers and schools in educating students about digital citizenship?
School and Teacher Role
Using resources and supports made available to school divisions, I think it is important for teachers to model responsible behaviour when using digital tools. Stand alone “digital citizenship” units may have been useful in the past, but at this point in our digital world it is necessary to follow digital citizenship guidelines in all teaching and interactions. Using various guides and resources mentioned earlier, teachers must begin to close the gap between teaching citizenship vs digital citizenship.
For example, in the article “Turning Students into Good Digital Citizens“, Helen L. Chen explains that skills to navigate the web and social media are, “no replacement for the very basic foundational skills of critical thinking, written and oral communication, and, increasingly, flexibility, teamwork, and the ability to adapt to new working environments and collaborate with people from a wide range of backgrounds”. Knowledge and experience using digital tools must be paired teaching students how to be good citizens. I wrote about what it means to be a digital citizen earlier in the course:
- “At this point, digital citizenship and citizenship are intertwined as life does not exist without the Internet anymore. As educators, it is more than managing a digital footprint, but rather acting ethically online with knowledge and empathy and making the transition towards ‘Digital Leadership’ as described by George Couros.”
Most importantly, I think schools should be able to teach students how to think critically, be aware of safety online and be a responsible participant. Mark Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship is an excellent guide for teachers to think about and incorporate digital citizenship across curriculum.
In short, I think the responsibility of educating students about digital citizenship can take place when teachers and schools are provided support, resources and most importantly, time. Teachers need time to learn about digital citizenship through professional development opportunities before they can teach their students.
Every school I have worked in during my six year career (six different schools – life of an arts education specialist) has had a different dynamic when it comes to technology in the school. This is affected by the changing tools supported by my division over the last six years (for example, introduction of Chromebooks, iPads, Google Suite and other approved apps), as well as the level of engagement from administration and down to staff and students. Using the SAMR Model, technology was often seen as a substitution tool at the beginning. The overhead projector was replaced with the digital projector or using computers to type up written work instead of a neat handwritten copy.
I moved into a new build school in 2017, complete with beautiful interactive projectors. We received “training” on these projectors which included a 30-minute presentation on how to connect your computer to the projector (by someone from the company). I am not kidding – these very expensive projectors with lots of capabilities quickly turned into a very expensive data projector. It was not until after I did my own research (watching YouTube videos) and then attending another training session that I was able to make full use of the projectors. But, I recently returned from maternity leave to the same school with a huge staff change this year, and unfortunately many projectors are not being used to their full capabilities again.
While that story is not related to teaching digital citizenship in our schools, I think it shows the importance that teachers and schools need to prioritize and commit to learning how to use digital tools effectively and responsibly. In my current school, without digging very deep, the only guidelines I can think of are a Media Release form (provided by my division) and “cellphone jails” with the senior students. That being said, I am one of the arts education specialists, so it is possible all the grade alike PLCs have their own digital citizenship practices in place and I am not aware. My thought is that if I am using technology with students, digital citizenship conversations and teaching need to take place.
BUT, before I started taking educational technology courses at the U of R in 2018, the term digital citizenship was not part of my vocabulary or teaching. I have always had a keen interest in using tech with students and considered myself to be “tech savvy” and current with social media. But I had no idea about my role and responsibilities as a teacher to create well-rounded digital citizens. I bet there are many teachers today who feel the same as I did two years ago. How do we change this?
Digital Citizenship in Schools – The Future
During our class this week, we participated in a discussion to determine key characteristics of digital citizens at various ages. Two of the questions looked at ways to support teachers and schools and anticipated challenges. Something that stood out to me was the lack of professional development for teachers. Sure, policy guides and resources are great, but they are only effective is teachers are given an opportunity to understand how to use them. And while there are many optional PD sessions available (Digital Citizenship PD offered by the STF), it still requires the teacher to find the information about the sessions and time to attend.
My classmate Shelby explains that the importance of educating students on media literacy and shares a definition from CommonSense Media: media literacy is the “ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending”. Teaching media literacy includes helping students learn to think critically, be smart consumers of products and information, recognize point of view and create media responsibly. These skills are relevant in many subject areas and are an important part of the digital citizenship puzzle.
What if our school division identified digital citizenship as a focus area (similar to numeracy, literacy, early years and FNIM instruction)? Then every school would be required to create a school-wide goal that aligns with the school division goals. Individual teacher professional goals could then relate an align with the goals. School-wide and community engagement would result through various initiatives (instead of a Literacy or Numeracy night, we could host Digital Citizenship Night). With a little extra push from school divisions to include digital citizenship as part of all curriculum with students, I think we would start to see a trickle-down effect, especially if we involve families. If we begin to speak a common language regarding digital citizenship/leadership with staff, students and families, then we will be moving in the right direction to prepare our students for the future.
Until next time,