There’s no doubt we live in a highly digital world. Over the years, each generation has gained more and more digital tools and information at the click of a few buttons. It’s equal parts amazing and alarming, to be honest.
As teachers, you naturally adapt to the changing times, and teaching digital citizenship has become a common occurrence in classrooms around the country. Some of you may be tasked with formal instruction of such ideas, as new standards have popped up in your curriculum. Some of you may weave it in organically as it comes up, perhaps in class discussions or as a part of an online research project you are teaching.
But the digital world is ever-evolving, and it can be overwhelming to try and cover everything your students need to know. Here are a few ideas and resources that may help.
Digital Citizenship: Safety
This is arguably the most important aspect of digital citizenship. Students can be oblivious to the dangers that lurk out in the digital world, and cyberbullying has grown into an absolute monster of a problem. Students need to be taught how to protect their personal information online.
- Especially among younger students, it’s always a good idea to encourage parental monitoring of any online activities you assign. A parent’s eye will be more keen to issues that may arise along the way. Keeping your parents in the loop with a quick “heads up” email will also allow them to make decisions that work within their own families. Many parents wisely limit screen time, so it helps them to know what is coming up.
- Teach students to report anything that alarms them immediately. Tell them to trust their instincts, and assure them that they will never be punished for something that they came across by accident.
- Be sure they know about cyberbullying - what it is, how to spot it, and how to avoid joining the fray. More resources on cyberbullying here.
Digital Citizenship: Wisdom and Integrity
Let’s face it; students aren’t known for thinking things through. They act impulsively and seek instant gratification. This combination often results in making unwise decisions online.
- Teach students how to find reputable sources–as well as which common sites to avoid. You can be broad (i.e. websites that end in .gov, .org, or .edu) or narrow (i.e. a closed list of approved websites for a given project).
- What about AI sites like ChatGPT? It’s important that students know first and foremost what you allow for any writing assignment. Clearly, you can’t allow them to submit an AI-generated paper as their own work. But in some circumstances, you could show them how to use it as a resource (i.e. to ease them out of writer’s block, to formulate a sentence they are struggling with, or to show a model of transition words/sentences that are used well). Be clear about what IS and what IS NOT allowed for your assignments, as well as any consequences for breaking the rules. Talk to your admin about how AI sites affect the policies your school has in place for cheating.
- Students need to learn the dangers of plagiarism. But they also need to be instructed on how to avoid it. Give them tips - like taking notes with only key words and waiting 24 hours before constructing any sentences using their notes. More resources on plagiarism here.
Digital Citizenship: Communication
Students learn written and oral communication in the classroom, but they sometimes forget that it should apply in academic digital situations as well. I mean, these kids learn to text at the same time they’re learning to write their names. So they have to fight the natural inclination of being super casual when typing anything! (True story: I once had a senior in high school who turned in a rough draft full of text shortcuts such as “u” for “you,” etc.)
- It’s worth teaching students how to compose an appropriate email, especially if it’s a part of student-teacher communication. You can be a safe place for them to practice (or learn the hard way). They should know the basic parts of an email, how to appropriately greet the recipient, and how to close. More resources on email etiquette here
- Students should also remember that grammar, spelling, and punctuation matter in online communications. Slang and acronyms should be avoided in an academic setting (who can keep up these days anyway?).
Ditital Citizenship: Resources
If you are completely overwhelmed or if you hit a place in your school year where direct instruction is clearly needed, CommonSense.org has a large (FREE) library of ready-to-go lesson plans for teachers, broken down by age group and then by topic. (You’ll need to create a login membership for their website to access their materials, but it’s free for those in education.)
You’ll find a ton of prepped and ready lessons with standard alignments, slides, and downloadable materials. They span everything from choosing a good password to being critical thinkers when it comes to reading the news.
Here is just a small sample of the lessons you can find there:
3-5: Privacy and Security
9-12: News and Media Literacy
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