Digital citizenship has quickly become a cornerstone of a 21st-century education

digital-citizenshipToday’s students are part of a global school. Many take courses online with classmates from all over the country, and often, the world. A growing and essential aspect of this global education is digital citizenship–a growing concept that aims to educate students about the impact of their online and digital actions.

“Digital citizenship is not a bunch of do’s and don’ts–it’s an incredible opportunity to bring to education new perspectives,” said educational futurist Jason Ohler.

Today’s educational leaders must acknowledge digital citizenship’s necessary place in schools, classrooms, and homes.

Parental involvement

Talking to parents and empowering students make up the first key step in digital citizenship education.

“I’m afraid the days of knowing where your kids are at all times are at a close,” Ohler said. “It’s just too easy to hide.”

But one of the most important steps, he said, occurs when parents have great relationships with their children.

“The best thing you can do is to have great relationships with your children, so that they want to talk to you,” Ohler said. “It boils down to having interesting, informative, and heartfelt conversations. It’s our job to keep them thinking and talking. We always want them thinking about this secondary life they’ve adopted.”

(Next page: Two more keys to digital citizenship)

Policy development and character education

Students must be involved in digital citizenship as it relates to policy.

“We’ve got to bring them to the policy table, and we just don’t do this,” Ohler said. “We are systematically removing opportunities for our children to think ethically about their digital lifestyles. Adults have to stop making all the rules.”

One way to evaluate a digital citizenship program is to determine whether students have the opportunity to explore policies and ask questions about their digital lifestyles. If not, then the policy is most likely not effective or impactful.

“Ultimately, I don’t want students to be afraid–I want them to be aware,” Ohler said.

Too often, digital citizenship education consists of a list of policies, lists, and lists of “don’ts,” and classroom teachers and school leaders address digital citizenship when individual issues arise and not as a larger concept.

“We’re up against an emotional wall where we don’t really know where to fit digital citizenship into the curriculum, when it’s appropriate, and so on,” he said.

“Never ever have we had the opportunity to help students develop ethically like we have now,” Ohler added. “It’s up to us to mine the potential and to help our students think ethically about their digital lives.”

Ideally, schools would develop character education for today’s digital students, in which:

  • Academics and character are equally important
  • The character education focuses on publicly-defined values infused throughout the curriculum
  • The focus is on frameworks rather than just attacking issues

Character education was at one time a larger part of education, Ohler said, but today, it consists of “implied” values–i.e., students sign a pledge to behave appropriately online and then the issue is not addressed directly again.

Developing missions and mantras

The Character Education Partnership’s (CEP) Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education is a great resource for education leaders seeking to define and articulate missions and mantras.

Ohler worked with CEP to modify those principles to reflect a digital world and digital mindsets.

Schools need mantras to brand their digital citizenship program–something very short to capture the school’s overall concerns, interests, and opportunities around digital citizenship.

Often, schools focus on using the internet safely, respectfully, and responsibly, yet creatively and with a sense of inspiration and purpose.

Mantras help give schools a “laser-like focus” that takes digital citizenship and helps lead the conversation and experience school leaders and educators hope to have.

For more of Ohler’s advice, view his edWeb webinar.