"What if, instead of avoiding social media in school altogether or focusing solely on the negative aspects, we teach students how to leverage it to connect in positive ways and build a digital footprint that reflects their best selves..."
- Susan M. Bearden
Digital Citizenship and how to teach our students to be careful, critical, and safe users of the internet is a hot topic at the moment, particularly in the wake of the tragic suicide of Dolly Everett here in Australia. How do we tackle this challenge to make children realise the impact that they can have on others in this age of internet anonymity?
There are a number of resources and tools that are available and I want to outline three of those in this article.
Office of the eSafety Commissioner
The website of this Government Office has a range of resources, both for classroom teachers, for parents and grandparents, and for a range of online activities for children to work through. There are also links for those who are struggling with cyberbullying through social media, a link to Kids Helpline, and a link to report offensive/illegal content. If you are a parent or educator, I would recommend having a look here. The eSafety Commissioner also has active Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages for you to engage with.
Interland is a website put together by Google that gamifies four aspects of using the internet: Reality River is about awareness of the credibility of news and information, Mindful Mountain is focused on responsible sharing, Tower of Treasure targets having appropriate password and being aware of privacy settings, while Kind Kingdom is about treating others as you want to be treated. It is aimed, quite clearly at younger students, up to around eleven or Twelve years of age, perhaps a young thirteen year old. The games themselves can be a bit clunky, but it is a reasonable resource to utilise for primary-aged students to encourage awareness of these concepts. There are teacher resources to go with the games (available here) and it is worth checking out to help you get started with considering how to teach these concepts.
Jacqui Murray wrote an article for TeachHub outlining the specific topics that she sees as being included in the broad category of digital citizenship (nineteen topics in all!), but then also breaks down an easy to follow suggestion for when and how to introduce these different concepts to our students, starting with Kindergarten and moving forwards from there. Links to different resources used with different ages students are included throughout.
The subject of digital citizenship is not going to go away, and simply banning phones and other devices from our children is a strategy akin to sticking our heads in the sand - the world is not going away and doing that sets our students up for failure when they do leave us as adults. Realistically, whatever we are trying to shield them from, they are likely seeing or hearing with their friends.
We should be proactive and work with our children from the beginning to understand how to be responsible online just as we do to teach them to be responsible off-line. We also need to stop referring to off-line as the real world. Online is as real world as off-line, the impacts are just as real, the friendships and social networks are just as real as those in the offline world.