For a while now, there’s been a great deal of concern over the digital divide—the gap between students who have easy access to technology and those who don’t. Most debates center on choosing the best classroom hardware to bridge the gap: ‘Should we try to get a laptop on every desk? Tablets? Two-in-ones?’ However, the hardware debate obscures a deeper issue. It doesn’t matter what kind of technology a student uses, so much as what the student is encouraged to do with it.

The subtler, but no less harmful, digital divide is between the students who are empowered to be creators and problem solvers with technology, and those who aren’t.

The Most Important Tool is a Skill, Not a Tablet

Since students today live in a digital world, digital citizenship is one of the most important lessons schools can teach. Online behavior—social pressure, harassment, bullying—is a big issue with a real-world impact.

Good digital citizens know how to protect themselves (and their personal information), how to protect others, and how to behave civilly in online discourse. These are all things that we’ve taught students to do face-to-face in schools for years. But now schools need to extend these lessons into the digital space.

One of the best ways to teach digital citizenship—or better, to encourage—students to be good digital citizens is to help them become digital creators. We do not expect students to learn courtesy by reading etiquette manuals; we teach them by exposing them to real-world situations and helping them to correct their mistakes. Young people should not be unleashed unsupervised into a digital environment without preparation, any more than we expect to drop them off at their first birthday party with no adult supervision. They have to be taught to create speech in a digital space just like in a physical one.

(Next page: More student skills to close the digital divide)


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