WHY IS DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP IMPORTANT IN EDUCATION?
For our latest blog, we interviewed Mr. John Arcay, TASIS England E-Safety Coordinator, about digital citizenship and why it is important in education.
What is Digital Citizenship?
Broadly defined, digital citizenship is the appropriate use of digital technologies. There are many, more detailed definitions that say much the same thing, but I like the way this one explains it best:
Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to the use of technology.
A digital citizen refers to a person who has the knowledge and skills to effectively use digital technologies to communicate with others, participate in society, and create and consume digital content. Digital citizenship is about confident and positive engagement with digital technologies.
When someone says they are a good digital citizen, they are actually repeating themselves since, by definition, a “digital citizen” describes someone who uses digital technologies responsibly and for the betterment of themselves and society.
Please provide some background about the definition and the need to teach digital citizenship at school.
Digital citizenship can be divided into three categories – respect, educate, and protect – that encompass nine fundamental elements. These were developed by Dr. Mike Ribble, director of technology for the Manhattan-Ogden Public Schools in Manhattan, Kansas, and co-leader for the Digital Citizenship Professional Learning Network for the International Society for Technology in Education. In his blog, he neatly encapsulates these elements as shown below.
- Digital access: Advocating for equal digital rights and access is where digital citizenship starts.
- Digital etiquette: Rules and policies aren’t enough – we need to teach everyone about appropriate conduct online.
- Digital law: It’s critical that users understand how to properly use and share each other's digital property.
- Digital communication: With so many communication options available, students need to learn how to choose the right tools according to their audience and message.
- Digital literacy: This involves more than being able to use tools. Digital literacy is about how to find, evaluate, and cite digital materials.
- Digital commerce: As students make more purchases online, they must understand how to be effective consumers in a digital economy.
- Digital rights and responsibilities: Students must understand their basic digital rights to privacy, and freedom of speech.
- Digital safety and security: Digital citizens need to know how to safeguard their information by controlling privacy settings.
- Digital health and wellness: One important aspect of living in a digital world is knowing when to unplug. Students need to make informed decisions about how to prioritize their time and activities online and off.
What are the components of digital citizenship learning at TASIS England?
We focus first on the proper, respectful, and lawful use of technology. People tend to communicate very differently in person than they do with technology. It is, therefore, important to educate students to understand that virtual versus real are two different things. I do believe that from the day a child steps into an educational institution, that is the first thing they should be taught. It is the knowledge that will be with them forever and will influence how they engage with others through technology.
At what age should children be taught Digital Citizenship?
At TASIS, we teach Digital Citizenship in all grade levels through our Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHEE) program. In addition, our Lower and Middle Schools introduce these principles through their Library program.
We start in Lower School by introducing students to some technical terms and methodology. Throughout Middle and Upper School, students will be given information that is more complex and appropriate for each age group.
Why is digital citizenship important in education?
Technology is ubiquitous, encompassing everything that we do and – in some way, shape, or form – dictating how we live our lives day-to-day. Whether it is online banking, making an appointment with your GP, calling a taxi, or simply saying hello to a friend or relative on the other side of the world, technology will always play a big role in securing these connections. Because our students live in this digital age, the fundamental principles of digital ctitzenship should be embedded in education from a very early age. We need to help them grow positively and responsibly as they learn to interact with technology.
By the time children are 13 years old, social media has become their main source of information and news gathering, usually via their phones. What they often don’t understand is that, when accessing news and information in this way, content is influenced by algorithms that are designed to show them information that is relevant to them based on previous searches, items read and/or liked, etc.
Generally speaking, they do not watch CNN, Sky, or other television news programs. Network news stations are regulated by various governing bodies (depending on the country) which should prevent these outlets from intentionally relaying false or misleading information. There is no such thing in social media. The lack of regulation, together with the algorithms that are designed to filter information according to a user’s likes and profile, mean that the news received by young people is unlikely to be a holistic overview and, in many instances, is distorted. That is why education is so important to help students understand how algorithms work and to encourage them to gather information from different sources.
Social media is the technology of choice for 13- to 25-year-olds and older. For the latter end of this age group, social media is their main source of social communication, dating, and entertainment. Putting aside for one moment the frequent cases of cyberbullying, sexting, and inappropriate comments made using these platforms, we need to also focus on the polarization caused by the overuse of technology. Studies have shown that virtual interaction among teenagers is now greater than physical interaction. Factoring in online gaming and chat platforms like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and others, it is apparent that today’s teenagers communicate more with family and friends online than in person.
For all of these reasons, teaching Digital Citizenship in schools from a very young age is crucial. It is our responsibility to help young people learn to discern the difference between what is real and what is virtual, to discover how information can be manipulated, and to strike the right balance between social and virtual interaction. I believe that by getting this balance right early on, we will see less cyberbullying and more appropriate uses of these technologies.
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