Monday, April 18, 2016

When Digital Citizenship Really Matters

Recently, I had a valuable and insightful conversation on social media with a colleague regarding the very real and serious struggles in high schools when technology is abused by their student body. 

The teacher, whom I hold in the highest regard, had reached her limit with students abusing their
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privilege to carry a small computer around with them every day. She discussed very serious incidents that broke the schools honor code, students using apps that allowed for intimidation, bullying and slandering of others, students making unethical choices recording others against their knowledge or students simply tuning out of the world right in front of them. These are problems we all see, in and out of the classroom. My colleague had reached her limit and decided to ban access to students using BYOD in her classroom for the sake of those being hurt. Her frustration level had been reached and her response was her final resort in trying to manage what she felt was an unmanageable situation. I found her response understandable, but unfortunate that this is what it had come to.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I don't believe just a few teachers can change the way students handle technology, so my colleagues response to ban student devices is a common one. Our conversation led us to the point that I wish more school leadership would make a priority; school communities need to embrace the educator's responsibility to teach digital citizenship, or the appropriate and responsible behavior we should use when accessing tech. I believe this should be done across curriculum's, not in isolation in a "tech class".  This problem needs to be solved through school climate and culture, with strong leadership guiding staff on the implementation and practicality of teaching such skills. These skills should be taught with the same significance that we teach other social skills in school. These skills should be prioritized with the same importance that all other lessons are taught. These students future jobs rely on their ability to communicate with digital etiquette and competence across cultures.

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Teaching 2nd grade, I feel I am an a great position to shape a child's mind on the responsibilities and etiquette required of anyone accessing content online. In my classroom, we create, we publish, we blog, and we share. We follow three simple rules before hitting that post button, or saving that video reflection.

1. Did I represent myself as a smart 2nd grader, spelling or speaking appropriately, using proper grammar and punctuation?
2. Did my contribution add something important or have a purpose? 
3. What would my parents think about what I have said or created?

Those guidelines sounds so simple, right? But they are not. Enforcing those 3 guidelines and checking the boxes forces my students to reflect, something even most adults don't do before hitting send. My students have such a desire to be seen as responsible, intelligent and capable, that these three small guidelines carry over into their face-to-face interactions as well. And THAT is the goal, isn't it? That students understand our online interactions are really the same as our face-to-face interactions.
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If my colleagues high school students had grown up with a culture that respected technology for the powerful learning tool it is, and understood the weapon of mass destruction it has the potential to be, would her students still behave in the same irresponsible manner? If my little learners continue to receive the same curricular instruction in digital citizenship, will my high school colleague reap the benefits of our lessons?

Please tell me how has your school implemented digital citizenship and what is your role in implementing digital citizenship skills?

For those looking on more information on digital citizenship, I would recommend looking at Mike Ribble's Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship