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Teaching Students Good Digital Citizenship

Teachers have long understood the importance of instilling good citizenship in their students, focusing on social etiquette and how to treat their peers with respect in the course of their daily lives. Today, though, it’s just as important that students understand what kinds of behaviors are acceptable online. Instilling the principles of good digital citizenship can help students become smart, responsible, and respectful members of their online communities.

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What Is Digital Citizenship?

We spend much of our lives today participating in virtual communities — like our social media networks, online forums, and even the comments sections of websites and blogs. Just as there are rules and norms that dictate what it means to be a good citizen in our real-life communities, there are ways to be a good “citizen” in the communities we interact with online. Being a good digital citizen means practicing online safety, treating other digital citizens with respect, and following the rules set for certain online communities.

Understanding how to practice good digital citizenship will only become more important in the following years, as our lives become further entwined with internet-based communities. Students today are already using online tools to facilitate the learning process — like participating in discussions in online forums — so exposing students at an early age to the “rules” of good citizenship is increasingly important.

If we don’t instill the tenets of good digital citizenship in students early, they run the risk of developing poor — even dangerous — online habits. For example, students may put themselves at risk by sharing too much personal information online. They may also become a risk to others. Unfortunately, participating in online communities provides a cloak of anonymity that sometimes encourages bad behavior in students who would never otherwise exhibit cruelty in “real life.” Poor digital citizenship may encompass cyberbullying, where students harass others using technology, like social media, texting, or email. While cyberbullying doesn’t inflict physical harm, the fact that online bullying can occur 24/7 provides victims little reprieve from emotionally damaging comments and rumors.

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Digital Literacy

Related to the concept of digital citizenship is digital literacy, which refers to how competently one can navigate and evaluate information in the digital sphere. Strong digital literacy skills mean online users can easily distinguish between legitimate news and research and unsubstantiated or misleading information. Poor digital literacy can make people feel lost when using the internet. A study by Rasmussen University found that 59% of respondents felt “overwhelmed” by the internet. Poor digital citizenship and poor digital literacy can both contribute to unsafe internet usage habits in students.

Tips for Encouraging Good Digital Citizenship in the Classroom

There are plenty of creative ways you can cultivate good online digital citizenship in students. Here are seven tips for encouraging good digital citizenship in the classroom:

  1. Remind students that it’s very hard to erase information on the internet, so they should be extra careful about what information and opinions they make public.
  2. Create a student etiquette guide for online behavior that teaches students how to “play nice” on the internet.
  3. Teach students about online “stranger danger” since it’s very easy for online users to pretend to be who they are not.
  4. Make sure students understand the difference between sharing and stealing online content. While it may feel like anything on the internet is up for grabs, copyright and intellectual property laws protect almost all online content.
  5. Use online forums or social media networks to facilitate student discussions so students have a safe space to practice good digital citizenship.
  6. Ensure your students know how to identify a “troll” — an online user whose goal is to provoke others or derail conversations — so they can avoid engaging with them.
  7. Encourage students to step away from phone and computer screens during family dinners and when hanging out with friends; offline relationships are just as important as online ones!

You can also participate in Digital Citizenship Week to instill important lessons about using the internet safely and responsibly and treating other digital citizens with respect. Fill the week with fun lessons and activities to get your students engaged and excited about digital citizenship. For example, you can have your students create their own pledges — in the form of poems, raps, songs, etc. — to be good digital citizens, and then have them share their pledges with the class.

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The Future of Digital Citizenship

Teaching good digital citizenship skills now means you’re laying the foundation for a bright future for your students. Students who don’t adopt good citizenship practices may struggle with future online assignments, and may even have trouble securing a job, as more and more careers revolve around technology. Instilling good digital citizenship early sets students up for success both in and outside of the classroom.

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