Technology. It’s everywhere. The digital world we live in can often be extremely overwhelming and often times we get lost in the vastness of it. I can connect with someone on the other side of the world at any time of the day. I can do several things at once on a computer, tablet, or cell phone while cleaning my apartment or going for a walk. Technology has found its way into every nook and cranny of our lives…including our schools. For as much as I know about operating within the digital world, I have students who know massive amounts more about the ins and outs of technology and its uses (I still don’t know what a snap streak is). That is an amazing thought in two different ways: 1) Wow, these students are brilliant and have so many opportunities in the palm of their hand to learn and grow; 2) Wow, these students have access to the world in the palm of their hands and may not realize the power they have, as well as the power that others have, to use technology for whatever use, be it positive or negative. With both of those thoughts in our heads, it is extremely important to take the time within the safe space of the classroom to teach students about being responsible digital citizens.
While I don’t remember being explicitly taught about digital citizenship in school (partially because of my lack of reliable memory), I strongly believe that, as a teacher and a digital citizen myself, it is my responsibility to teach my students about the tech world that grows more and more every day. We have so many opportunities within curriculum to incorporate digital citizenship into our lessons. I’ve seen teachers make use of Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook within their classroom to engage students. Many teachers start students off early with things like blogs to help them make positive digital footprints. All of these things are great openings to begin a discussion of being responsible, positive contributors to the digital world. However, the greatest challenge that I personally see with teaching digital citizenship is this: how do I teach students about the digital world when they potentially know more than I do? Our students, especially those in the middle and senior grades, make use of technology and engage with it daily. The older generation often complains that younger generation is constantly online but what are they doing on there? Learning how to get around parent and school blocks, communicating with that new friend they made in Timbuctoo, posting pictures of themselves and their friends on Facebook and Instagram. I believe that they have learned from the mistakes of the past in terms of digital citizenship but the word continues to change and so do the “rules.” I make a conscious choice to refrain from being online all the time and often times “disconnect” in certain places (hello rural life where wifi and poor service are a constant) so why would they listen to me?
I think the best way to approach it is to give the students a voice and building a knowledge of digital citizenship together rather than using the typical scare tactics that have been used in the past. As much as we don’t want to admit it, they are the experts and may know more than we think. However, we can take it upon ourselves to teach them elements (as we discussed in class) like digital etiquette and digital communication. These two topics I think are extremely important and should be taught early on because it relates to what students do every day. It’s imperative for students to know that, just as they present themselves to the general public and the community around them in person, how they present themselves online has great impact on not only their present, but their future as well. While being a smart technology user is important, being an aware technology user is even more important. Making students aware of the things they post and the way they communicate with others is key to creating responsible digital citizens.
As we discussed in class, we can’t just teach them but we have to model for them what it means to be respectful and responsible when using technology and being online. If we can’t practice what we teach, then we have no right to be teaching it. Our students today are brilliant and full of potential and it is our job to help them grow and use that potential in a positively impactful way.