You’re probably familiar with the idea of citizenship as it applies to the country you call home. But in today’s world, there’s another form of citizenship that may be just as important. Join us as we discuss digital citizenship, what it means, and why it’s important.
A digital citizen is defined as anyone who regularly uses information technology. Like any other form of citizenship, a digital citizen has both rights and responsibilities in relation to their actions online. Virtual Library's digital citizenship definition is “engaging in appropriate and responsible behavior when using technology.” This applies to intentional behaviors like being helpful to others and not cyberbullying. But it also applies to unintentional behaviors, like sharing misinformation without fact-checking it. In short, good digital citizenship means behaving in a positive and helpful way online.
The concept of citizenship involves not only laws and documentation, but also the concept of belonging to a digital community. Digital citizenship is even more closely tied to the idea of community.
To put it simply, digital responsibility is “taking control of your digital life.” It involves four main aspects: digital distraction, online privacy, the environmental and societal impact of technology, and health as it relates to technology. With the tremendous use of technology in the classrooms, teachers play a role in developing good digital citizens.
Like digital citizenship, digital literacy has to do with the online world and our understanding of it. Digital literacy is an understanding of the entire digital world, as well as the ability to navigate it. So, rather than just being able to read text, a digitally literate person also knows how to use embedded resources like links, videos, audio clips, and images. They understand how to navigate a website or app, how to get around on the internet, and how to adapt to new software and technologies.
The truth is, students today often exhibit a higher degree of digital literacy than their teachers. That’s because they grew up in an online world, while their teachers may not have. This generation is known as “digital natives.” Think of it similarly to a native speaker of English, versus someone who has learned it as a second language.
But what does this have to do with digital citizenship? Someone who displays a high degree of digital literacy may or may not also engage in good digital citizenship. Hackers and cyberbullies are digitally literate but lack good digital citizenship.
The difference between digital literacy and digital citizenship has to do with the way we use our understanding of the internet. Students who understand the way the internet works but don’t have the maturity to behave in a responsible way must be taught to be good citizens of the digital world.
In today’s increasingly connected world, it’s easy to take digital access for granted. Many of us think of high-speed internet access the same way we think of basics like electricity and indoor plumbing. But according to Time Magazine, a quarter of Americans lack digital access. This disparity in access to the online world is often called the digital divide.
Technology is being integrated into more and more schools, even in areas where students may lack access to the internet at home. As we introduce these children to the digital world, it’s important to understand that they may have a different view and understanding of digital technology. It’s also vital that we support parents who may not be able to help their children with technology-related tasks.
Parents who lack basic digital literacy may not understand the hazards and risks of the online world. They may not be equipped to help their children deal with difficult concepts like cyberbullying. Today’s educators must consider digital citizenship not only for the children in their classrooms, but also for the rest of the family.
So why is teaching digital citizenship so important? It’s likely that a good number of your students are using smartphones, even in elementary schools today. This gives them an immense amount of power at their fingertips. And without a proper understanding of how to use such digital technology, they can get themselves and others in a great deal of trouble.
One classic example is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is any form of bullying that takes place digitally. This includes sharing embarrassing photos or private information about someone else. It can also mean sending mean messages, threatening others, or spreading rumors. It’s a problem that’s rampant in our schools, with 15 percent of students in grades 9-12 reporting that they’ve been bullied online. This often leads to students feeling unsafe and withdrawn, and in some cases has even resulted in suicide.
Additionally, it’s important for students to recognize that every time they engage online, they’re creating a digital footprint that could someday be used against them. Increasingly, colleges and employers are reviewing applicants’ social media before deciding on admissions or job offers. Yet few students realize how far-reaching their online posts can be. And once something is posted online, it can never be fully removed.
Another incredibly important reason to teach digital citizenship is online safety. We all know that there are predators online looking for the vulnerable to prey upon. Pedophiles, human traffickers, and scam artists are all given access to students online every day. Unprepared kids are easy targets for these dangers.
So why teach digital citizenship? The only way to keep students safe online is to teach them how to use technology responsibly.
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