As the lives of my students, online and off, grow more complex by the day, I spend a good deal of time helping them learn more about digital citizenship. Today the digitally connected, always-on world presents students, teachers, and parents with confusing questions and baffling behavior expectations.
But wait a minute!
Is this digital citizenship or just plain citizenship? Building strong 21st Century citizens is of paramount importance whether we are living our lives offline or on, and we need to avoid using old-fashioned compartmentalized instruction in a connected world.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines citizenship as “The qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community,” and helping students shape themselves into responsible community members is what caring adults do. We model appropriate behavior and help children learn how to participate as respectful and ethical members of society. No matter where they work or play, our citizenship goals are the same.
Perhaps it’s time to think of citizenship lessons as a single package that helps students learn about and embrace the full range of life experiences and community expectations — content that everyone shares responsibility for sharing with children. The communities where we shape and sharpen our citizenship skills may change, but values that we apply — online and off — are the same. Parents and teachers need to talk about citizenship all of the time because the digital and non-digital worlds intersect at just about every point in life — at home, in the car, during meals, at the beach, and in every single classroom.
Every teacher, parent, and adult leader needs to include the basics of citizenship — digital or otherwise — in conversations with children. It’s not necessary to understand every fact about digital life — only that these issues are important to include. Until we incorporate the digital world right along with the day-to-day citizenship conversations, our children may not really understand that the same behavior expectations apply.
Weave Digital and Non-digital Life Together in Conversations
- Talking about how to play together? Include conversational references to online games and apps right along with block building, sports, and board games.
- Discussing the importance of making good choices? Refer to social media or app sites along with the behavior decisions on the playground.
- Conversing about laws and why citizens do (or do not) follow them? Add the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) to the conversation, perhaps noting how half the people follow it and the other half do not. Or maybe even talk about texting-while-driving laws and how many people don’t follow them.
- Focusing on rude behavior? Include day-to-day examples online and off.
- Explaining how to care for equipment at home or in the classroom? Don’t forget to include iPads, iPod Touches, tablets, and cell phones.
Unless everyone is on the job, all of the world’s technology teachers working full-time can’t build strong online citizens. By focusing on the whole citizenship picture we can better help children connect key values with behavior in their online and offline worlds.
It’s not digital citizenship — it’s citizenship. Let’s ensure our instruction is appropriate for our students’ connected world.