Digital Citizenship is about Behaviour not Topics

It occurred to me as I watched this excellent and quite worrying “Story of Electronics’ that an awareness of the Environmental Impact of the Devices that we use  should be one of the Elements of Digital Citizenship.

As far as I know it isn’t one of the usual topics that might make up a Digital Citizenship Curriculum, which for Middle School students usually focuses on topics like these ones taken from Mike Ribble’s book Digital Citizenship in Schools: Digital Access; Digital Communication; Digital Literacy; Digital Etiquette; Digital Law; Digital Rights and Responsibilities; Digital Health and Wellness; Digital Security.  Of course as I write this list I realise it might  actually fit under Digital Rights and Responsibilities.

My next thought was rather jaded.  I realised that even if I did show this video to my students it would very likely have no effect on whether or not they decided to get rid of their current device so they could have the next ‘latest and greatest’, because the reality is that:

Digital Citizenship isn’t about topics to be learned but behaviours that have to be lived.

I started wondering how a Digital Citizenship curriculum might look different if we approached it from the perspective of giving our students experiences, rather than telling them how they should act.  So I thought I would see how far this thought experiment would take me:

Digital Security

The closest to this one that I get is lessons on internet safety and security.  This usually takes the form of,

  • Showing them videos that highlight the worst things that could happen if they do release any private information online
  • Teaching them about privacy settings.  Usually this starts by tweaking their settings in a Ning environment and then discussing Facebook privacy settings.
  • Have them produce short videos to share what they have learned.  My Grade 7 students do this as part of a claymation project.  Here is one from last year.

If I was really interested in changing behaviour I would need to,

  • Meet them where they are, namely Facebook.  I already use different social networks in some of my classrooms (Ning in Grade 9 and ThinkQuest in Grade 6 and 7).  My reasoning is that if I provide them with a safe online social space to make mistakes in then we can discuss these mistakes and I might make them think twice before they do something similar again.  I have had a few successes in this regard but on the whole I can’t help but feel like my students see these social networks as ‘for school’ and there is very little transference of learning to their Facebook lives.
  • Value what they already know.  The truth is that most of my students are already pretty Facebook savvy and I think I lose them when I start going on about privacy settings.

Digital Etiquette

Usually these lessons are about Cyberbullying and the very real possibility of being misunderstood online.

  • I love the Lets Fight it Together video from Digizen, which I feel has a lot of depth to it.  I often show it to classes and then facilitate a discussion afterwards.
  • My grade 9 students participate in the Digiteen Project every year and a number of them always end up giving presentations to younger students on the topic of Cyberbullying.   To give my students credit they do a great job within the scope of the assignment I give them, but every year I end up wishing their final presentation reflected a greater understanding of the nuances of things like Cyberbullying.  When I step back and reflect I realise that the mistake I have made is asking them to produce one final product.  The whole idea of a final product (or at least the kind I have asked for) is based in the idea that Digital Citizenship is about topics not behaviour.  So,

If I was really interested in changing behaviour I would need to,

  • Present my students with challenging scenarios that don’t have an easy answer and facilitate class discussions on these scenarios; maybe plan to use more of a Socratic Method approach.
  • Instead of asking them to create a culminating project I should ask them to write some kind of journal or reflection piece (struggling here …)

Digital Law: Copyright and Fair Use

To cover this topic I will often show my class a video like Wanna Work Together.  I insist that all the media they use when they create products for my class is CC licensed and attributed, and I teach them how to search for CC licensed media.  The rationale that I share with them is that if they want to share what they create with a wider audience then they need to make sure they have permission to use the images and music they found online.  The thing is that I know they still go home and download tons of stuff illegally.  The truth is so do teachers.

If I was really interested in changing this behaviour I would need to,

  • Do more research myself on the real impact of illegal downloading on individuals.  Maybe have a musician or photographer come and talk to the class about the impact that it has on them.
  • Again, find really engaging scenarios that we can discuss in depth in class and ask them for a reflection piece (that doesn’t get marked – as soon as it’s for marks they will just tell me what they think I want to hear).

I could go on, but to wrap up.  To really educate Digital Citizens we need to:

  • Stop thinking of it as a set of topics that need to be taught, and I would even go so far as to suggest that it is impossible to get students to be honest and thoughtful about their online behaviours if you are going to mark them on their answers.
  • Forget about teaching topics and start having conversations about complex scenarios.
  • Do away with culminating projects and instead ask for evidence of ongoing reflection.

One thought on “Digital Citizenship is about Behaviour not Topics

  1. I love it. It is like teaching them all the elements, standards of my science course and then suddenly declaring them scientists, that doesn’t quite measureup…. Well put.

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