Digital Citizenship

  • What is digital citizenship?

    Let's see how several pioneers in the field have defined the term:

    • Digital citizenship refers to "the ability to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world. These 21st century skills are essential for students to harness the full potential of technology for learning." - Common Sense Media
    • "Digital Citizenship is a concept which helps teachers, technology leaders and parents to understand what students/young people/technology users should know to use technology appropriately. Digital Citizenship is more than just a teaching tool; it is a way to prepare students/technology users for a society full of technology. Too often we are seeing students as well as adults misusing and abusing technology but not sure what to do. The issue is more than what the users do not know but what is considered appropriate technology usage." - Mike Ribble, DigitalCitizenship.org
    • "Critical thinking and ethical choices about the content and impact on oneself, others, and one's community of what one sees, says, and produces." - Anne Collier, Connectsafely.org

    The concept of digital literacy can fall under the umbrella of digital citizenship. Although the lines are blurred in defining these two terms, digital literacy has more to do with information literacy skills around the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages with digital media. Media scholar Renee Hobbs refers to four areas of digital literacy: 1) Computer Skills and Access Issues; 2) Issues of Authorship; 3) Issues of Reputation; and 4) Online Social Responsibility. Being an informed media consumer and creator--essentially, being digitally literate--is an important aspect of digital citizenship.

    Most schools are including digital citizenship (often framed as "Internet safety") as part of their Acceptable Use Policy, as part of the agreement in using technology at school.
    Internet Safety
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    Internet safety refers to staying safe from online risk, such as avoiding risky online talk with others; protecting against online scams and schemes like phishing; avoiding encounters with inappropriate content online; using powerful passwords and secure websites; protecting from viruses and spyware, and learning how to protect personal information online. Although Internet safety can also include other risks such as cyberbullying, here it's more narrowly focused on behavior that puts a child's safety at risk, and falls under the larger category of digital citizenship.

    Read/watch the following resources:

    Cyberbullying, Communication and Relationships

    In the early days of the Internet, there were utopian visions of how this wonderful technology would bring people together as part of thriving, empowering communities. And although that indeed is the case, we also have seen the opposite--the Internet (and other digital media like cell phones) as a place to spread hate and cruelty. Just like bullying occurs on the playground or in school hallways, it now happens online. So what is cyberbullying?

    "Cyberbullying is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones." (StopCyberbullying.org). One important distinction is that cyberbullying has to do with minors. When adults are involved it falls into the realm of harassment or stalking.

    Examples of cyberbullying include mean posts (via text, email, social media site); spreading rumors, sharing embarrassing or private pictures, videos, or information; impersonation; forwarding something that was private; and creating a "slam" page to demean someone.

    You probably have heard of terrible stories about cyberbullying on the news or maybe even in your school community. One of the reasons cyberbullying can be so devastating is that it is different from face-to-face bullying. Take a moment to consider the ways that cyberbullying is different. (Check out some of the key differences here.)

    Increasingly states are passing laws, and schools are having policies regarding bullying and cyberbullying. See The Cyberbullying Research Center's Bullying and Cyberbullying Laws Fact Sheet to see where your state stands.

    When teaching kids about cyberbullying, it's important to focus on how cyberbullying is broader than the target and the bully--there are also bystanders and upstanders. Here are the roles define (vocabulary taken from Common Sense Media's high school lesson, Taking Perspectives on Cyberbullying):

    • target: a person who is the object of an intentional action
    • offender: a person who intentionally commits acts to hurt or damage someone
    • bystander: a person who passively stands by and observes without getting involved
    • upstander: a person who supports and stands up for someone else

    Kids should be encouraged to move from being bystanders watching bullying happen, to being upstanders to stop the bullying and/or support the target. Also keep in mind that kids can play different roles in a cyberbullying situation, and those roles can change.

    Privacy, Digital Footprints and Identity

    Each time a young person fills out a profile, comments on something, posts a video, or texts a picture of themselves to friends, they reveal themselves to the world. Understanding how to protect online privacy goes beyond knowing how to customize privacy settings. Privacy settings aren't a cure-all in a world where anything posted can be copied, pasted, taken out of context, and sent to millions of people in a heartbeat. And, privacy not only has to do with the information we share about ourselves and how this might affect our reputation, but also understanding:

    • opt-in or opt-out rights to privacy (i.e. those long boring privacy policies we click "agree" to but never read)
    • how companies gather, track, and use data about consumers, and how this affects our online experience (i.e. targeted advertising)
    • understanding laws that protect privacy, such as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. This law i. Read more about COPPA and the Federal Trade Commission's 2012 updates to the law.



    Check out this infographic and consider the range of issues that fall under privacy: Understanding your online privacy: a (really long) infographic

    But most parents - and teachers - are concerned with what kids post about themselves and how this affects them not only now, but in the future. From the moment they start sharing information online, kids are building digital footprints that will stay with them for life. Those decisions to post something not-so-smart can haunt a kid years later. And, increasingly college admissions officers, scholarship committees, and employers are "googling" people as part of their applications process. Read this article: Beware: Potential Employers are Watching You (Wall Street Journal, 2012).

    Finally, being responsible for online privacy means not only protecting our own privacy, but protecting the privacy of others. Students may share information, such as a photo of their friend at the mall (when they were supposed to be doing homework!), without thinking about how it affects their online privacy.

    Copyright and Fair Use

    Kids live in a "copy/paste culture" where they often think, if it's online, it's mine! Most teachers have experienced some kind of problem with student plagiarism and/or improper citation (or lack thereof). Palfrey et al. (2009) found, in research with 12-22 year-olds, young people are fairly ignorant of their rights and restrictions with copyright law, but yet show an interest in the rights and livelihoods of creators. In a digital age, it's more important than ever that students learn about copyright, fair use, and attribution. And, in a digital age we no longer cite just the quotes we use from a book or article, but the images, videos, and websites we use too.

    Read and/or watch the following resourcesto get familiar with fair use and copyright:

    Another aspect that falls under copyright is learning about the legal and ethical issues regarding piracy (illegal downloading of music, movies, software, etc.). Read this article to get a background on how piracy affects everyone, and why education is an important part of the solution (Forbes, 2012).

    Teaching about copyright does not have to be one-sided in having students learn their responsibilities as creators in a digital world. They also should learn about their rights as creators--particularly their rights to fair use. One question that most students get invested in is: How would you allow others to use your work (can others share it, alter it, make money from it, etc.)? Students can also learn about Creative Commons, an alternative to copyright that gives people the right to share, use, and even alter and build upon a work. Watch this short video about Creative Commons and explore the different types of licenses.

    Additional resources

    Effective Searching on the Web

    Students have all had the experience where they've searched for information online and the search brought back over 2 million results in 0.9 seconds. Now comes the daunting task of narrowing down these results to find the exact information they were looking for.

    With information on the visible web growing each day, learning how to search more effectively is more important. There are several techniques that will help to narrow the results of a search.

    • use more descriptive wording such as porcelain china doll, instead of doll or ceramic doll
    • use boolean operators such as labrador not dog if you want to eliminate information about dogs while searching for information on the island or mountain.
    • Many websites will accept quotes around a word string such as "barrier reef" which will force the search engine to look for pages with those two specific words together.

    These and other tips as shared in the articles listed below will help students to refine and better define their searches.

    Evaluating Credibility and Trustworthiness

    Ever heard the one commercial that touts: "They can't put anything on the Internet if it isn't true!"? Just reading that statement has to make one wonder about the reliability of information found online. Remember, almost anyone can post information online. It is important that educators continue to help their students understand how to evaluate online information to determine if the information is accurate.

    Below are some key things to look for when evaluating a website orwebpage:

    • Author or contact person: are they credible? (usually found on the home page)
    • Institution supporting the site/author: who are they? (usually linked with the author)
    • Domain – the last segment of the URL (for example, .edu, com., org., .mil, .net, .gov)
    • Date of creation or revision (is the site current?)
    • Intended audience (for whom did the author create this site?)
    • Purpose of the information (does the author present their information with a bias?)

    Additional Resources

    University of California at Berkeley: Evaluating Web Pages