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Being a Good Digital Citizen: What Does it Mean?

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 1/10/2014

There is a new form of digital literacy being promoted in many middle schools and high schools: the idea of being a digital citizen. The idea is to teach students internet essentials: safety, privacy, plagiarism, cyberbullying and more. How are your digital skills? Could they use an update?

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    What Does it Mean to be a Good Digital Citizen? Digital citizenship is an important concept for teachers, parents, online learners and young students alike. The concepts behind being a good digital citizen involve learning how to be safe online, as well as managing your online persona and reputation. Everyone should have a good understanding of social norms and rules of the internet, and learn effective ways of managing social media accounts and privacy.

    Promoters of digital citizenship are correct in encouraging educators to model and teach appropriate use of technology in the classroom. But the concept of digital literacy is more broad than that, and is applicable for adults as well. Whether parents, online learners or professionals, we all interact with a digital culture every day.

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    Understanding Digital Citizenship

    Between smartphones, video game players, tablets and computers, we are all exposed to aspects of a digital culture whether we desire it or not. Children especially will not understand everything they are seeing and hearing, easily leading to technology abuse and misuse. Because many teachers and parents lack knowledge or basic common sense when it comes to technology, students continue to go online without the proper guidance or tools.

    The rules and social norms of technology are constantly changing, and therefore are unclear. By learning about digital citizenship, young persons can take responsibility as well as develop a sense of ownership about the decisions they make online. They can learn to make ethical and morally correct decisions and safely interact with others in the online world.

    The goal of digital citizenship is not simply protecting a person from the dangers of the internet, but rather teaching them how to handle themselves online. This includes managing privacy, communicating with others, and dealing with the consequences of their actions. Because it is impossible in today’s day and age to completely prohibit a young person from going online at school or at home, educators and parents should give student the tools they need to mitigate or minimize some of the risks they may encounter.

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    Elements of Digital Citizenship

    While digital citizenship is a concept beginning to be taught in grade schools and high schools, the building blocks are essential for any person using the internet. There are several components that are important to maintain a healthy and appropriate presence online:

    • Digital Etiquette/Ethics: While technical knowledge is important in providing good digital citizenship, proper online etiquette and ethics will help users make the right decisions when on the Internet. Copyright infringement and even plagiarism are results of poor understanding of digital etiquette and ethics.
    • Digital Literacy: Students of all ages should have an understanding as well as knowledge and skills to participate safely in the digital world. Giving out private information such as phone numbers, addresses or bank account information on a social network are examples of digital illiteracy. It’s more about being able to make the right decisions as opposed to only having the proper tools to do so.
    • Digital Safety: Anyone who uses technology should never be afraid to do so. This includes posting on a social networking or texting a friend or classmate. Unfortunately, the Internet is a haven for cyberbullies who can easily pick on, discredit and prey on unsuspecting friends, classmates and even strangers. Internet users should have the tools necessary to deal with bullies. This could include choosing not to engage with someone, blocking a rude person from social media accounts, and even reporting dangerous or illegal behavior to the authorities.
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    Promoting Healthy Digital Citizenship in the Classroom

    While having access to technology in a classroom is vital, it’s even more important making sure educators have the proper tools to integrate healthy digital citizenship. Teachers and educational administrators and leaders can accomplish this in several ways:

    • Implement a strict Internet-use policy that outlines what is and is not acceptable for students to do while online including time limits, appropriate websites and use of social networking while on campus
    • Create a zero tolerance policy for those who break the classroom rules regarding healthy digital citizenship such as revealing private information online, surfing inappropriate websites or using mobile devices on campus where they may normally be prohibited.
    • Develop a cultural understanding and awareness by collaborating with colleagues and students from other cultures through various digital media.
    • Advocate and teach ethical and safe use of technology and digital information. This includes understanding and respecting copyright and intellectual property.
    • Educators need to address the needs of all the learners in the classroom.

    It’s never too late to begin to learn, teach or model the aspects of healthy digital citizenship. Teachers and leaders in education should serve as role-models, leading by example. Good digital citizenship also must be practiced at home with parents offering many of the same rules and restrictions that are found in school.

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