By the time today’s digital natives enter high school, most of them have already been using devices, computers, the internet, and social media for years. They use these tools on their own terms and for their own reasons, many of which aren’t readily apparent to older adults who didn’t grow up with tablets and mobile phones in hand.
This usage presents unique challenges for educators who must not only teach a standard curriculum and help shepherd students into adulthood, but who must also help promote good digital citizenship both in and out of the classroom.
Whether this means posting on social media only content that they’d be okay with everyone seeing; not using profanity; using their devices responsibly and safely at all times; or following the rules and guidelines when using classroom forums, Instagram, or other sites; raising good digital citizens is as challenging as it is rewarding.
Here’s how we do it at our district.
Related: How to craft useful, student-centered social media policies
A 6-step digital citizenship plan
Step 1: Start with creating and implementing a Responsible Technology Use agreement.
We’re committed to helping our students use technology safely and responsibly, so our district implemented a Responsible Technology Use agreement. For our students, this means completing an annual digital-citizenship course within 30 days of enrollment in the district. We use a comprehensive program from CommonSense Media, where the lessons run 20-25 minutes in length and we administer them within our classroom labs, regular classrooms, or at home. The content is grade-specific (for us that’s grades 7-12) and features lessons designed to empower students to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world.
Step 2: Focus on digital etiquette, respect, and safety.
Our digital citizenship courses teach our junior high and high school students how to respect themselves and others through digital etiquette, digital access, and digital-law lessons. The courses educate students and show them how to connect with others through digital literacy, digital communication, and digital commerce lessons. Finally, they teach students how to protect themselves and others through modules like digital rights and responsibilities, digital security, and digital health and wellness.
Step 3: Prepare students to leave the best #digitalfootprint in the digital world.
Whether they enter the workforce or college, we want our students to be well prepared for the world. And that means leaving a digital footprint that they can be proud of. We take this responsibility very seriously; we consider this our last chance to teach them before they graduate.
By the time they get into higher education or the workforce, students need to have had their digital skills embedded. For us, that means identifying what they need in terms of guidance and support to become responsible adults in our digital world. Technology’ not going away, so they’re going to have to learn how to manage their actions in order to successfully maneuver, behave, and act appropriately.
Step 4: Find a student safety screening tool to support your safety measures.
We used to rely on student reporting of suspicious or inappropriate online activity. Before becoming a Google district, we worked with Amplified IT to complete a Google audit, which ferreted out the number of profane words residing in our students’ Google Docs.
We were filtering at a high level, but not going far enough to catch students using profanity or specific catchphrases tied to bullying, inappropriate behaviors, school violence, and other harmful situations. To help, we searched for an online platform that would close that gap while also monitoring student email for inappropriate discussions. We chose Gaggle for its robust artificial intelligence technology and the fact that real people are monitoring the student’s online activity. For us, having that tool in place is really about discipline through nurturing—and through education. When we catch something, we address it right away.
Step 5: Look for what isn’t visible – Stranger Danger and more.
We recently intervened when an underage foster child began communicating with an adult male who was planning to pick her up and run away. During one email exchange, the adult happened to include profanity, and our safety-management platform picked up on it and alerted us to the potential problem. That, in turn, opened up the entire email conversation and allowed our district administrators and the child’s foster parents to intervene in what could have turned into a major incident.
Related: Moving from digital citizenship to digital leadership
In other instances, we’ve used the e-mailing monitoring platform to identify students who were using email for online dating and/or escort services, the latter of which were posting profiles that contained nudity. Again, Gaggle caught those activities and reported them to the designated individuals who, in turn, intervened quickly.
Step 6: Know that you can’t put a price on a student’s life or future.
You also can’t put a price on the value of educating a student to be a good digital citizen. However, the investment we’ve made in both time and money to achieve our goals in this area have been well worth it. Safety is a number one priority for the stakeholders in our district.