April Willis: Empowering Students to Become Remarkable Digital Citizens

By April Willis, originally published in the October/November, 2021 issue of Equity and Access

The technology shift in our culture has been on a steady incline for about the past 25 years. Not only has technology become more abundant, but the targeted users are younger than ever before. Infants are programmed to find entertainment on tablets, toddlers are taught to communicate using apps, and now we have five-year-olds attending full-day kindergarten via web conferencing.

With schools loaning devices and corporations providing free wifi, the issue of tech access for students seems to be a dwindling issue. However, as educators, we have a new concern to address: how to ensure our students not only understand digital citizenship, but feel empowered to become remarkable digital citizens.

What Is Digital Citizenship?

Digital citizenship involves how a person utilizes technology to engage with the rest of society. From being a digital consumer to creator, we must first explain to students the responsibility that comes with accessing technology. However, as evidenced by much of the toxicity on social media pages, many adults struggle with being good digital citizens- perhaps, because they were allowed to interact with others on digital platforms without any guidance on how to responsibly engage.

It is critical that we attempt to end the negative consequences of poor digital citizenship (e.g., cyberbullying, censorship, identity theft, etc.) by teaching, modeling, empowering, and holding students accountable for behavior in the digital world.

Components of Digital Citizenship

While there are several generally agreed-upon components of digital citizenship, there doesn’t seem to be one authoritative source on the absolute factors of digital citizenship. In general, educators can start creating awareness around the following pillars of digital citizenship:

Digital Etiquette

How to be a polite and respectful individual by using devices at appropriate times, using them for appropriate purposes, and engaging with others using appropriate behavior & language

Digital Health

Knowing when to turn off devices and engage in real-life

Digital Integrity

Examining sources of digital content and also being deliberate about what you repost/share/promote

Digital Security

Understanding what is publicly available, protecting yourself with online purchases, and avoiding catfishing situations/scams

Digital Responsibility

Reporting cyberbullying, threats, abusive content, etc.

Empowering Students by Informing Them

We want to protect children from what they don’t know. However, when we hand over passwords and devices, not every filter will  work every time. Rather than relying on firewalls, start having conversations with children about how incredible the internet can be, but using the internet comes with responsibility.

We must model responsible digital behavior. When you’re using the internet, narrate steps you take to stay safe and responsible. Demonstrate how to report misuse of platforms. Explain how to create secure passwords and how to use discernment when shopping online. Explore with children how to research facts by using sources which are reliable and unbiased. Show children how to unplug. Empower them to be remarkable digital citizens.

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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