Why Digital Citizenship Is an Educational Imperative

It’s clear that we need some sort of action, but where do we begin?

GUEST COLUMN | by Kellie Ady

CREDIT Schoology.pngWith students accessing the internet on their own devices at all ages and spending significant time outside of school on the web, the topic of digital citizenship is only growing in importance.

The sooner districts, along with the broader education community, address and formalize how we approach this topic at scale, the better off students will be in the long term.

But there’s still a lot of work to do.

In education today, we’re seeing more and more students use digital tools to enhance their own learning, connect with others, and create meaningful content.

“Our students need this now more than ever—and they need our guidance, support, and modeling to successfully navigate the digital landscape in which they are already involved.”

Schools are continuing to invest in hardware for classrooms, mobile device access is on the rise across all age groups, and social media continues to have a strong presence in both school and personal spaces.

Later this spring, Project Tomorrow will release results from their 2017 annual Speak Up Research project, but even the preliminary data they’ve made available is telling.

According to their survey, 36% of students in K-2 now have a smartphone for their own use and 52% reported having a tablet.

Sixty-three percent of students in grades 3-5 are accessing the internet at least a few times a week, if not daily, and the numbers at secondary grade levels are even higher.

Half of middle schoolers reported using the internet more often outside of school than in school, and 58% of high school students said that they use their own device at school.

The Current State of Digital Citizenship

Despite the need for digital citizenship skills for students, the topic remains largely handled in pockets, if at all, and rarely do we see formalized programs in place to address that need.

For students who do receive some kind of instruction, it may be sporadic, focused solely on internet safety rather than on broader topics, or it’s only targeted at secondary grades or 1:1 environments while it’s clear that all grade levels need guidance in navigating the digital landscape.

For the first time since the Speak Up project started in 2003, the 2017 survey included questions about digital citizenship. Here are some interesting data points that surfaced in their preliminary data:

  • Only half of high school students reported learning any digital citizenship skills at school, yet 68% of teachers reported feeling “somewhat or very comfortable teaching good digital citizenship behaviors and strategies”
  • More than half the parents surveyed felt that children should start learning about digital citizenship topics in grades 1 – 3
  • 87% of parents said that they should have primary responsibility for teaching digital citizenship but 72% said that a teacher should have primary responsibility

Schoology’s 2017 Global State of Digital Learning survey also had some revealing information around digital citizenship. School administrators listed “created a digital citizenship program” as a top priority for 2017-2018.

However, when asked if a school or district had a digital citizenship program that was required by students (at any age), only 28% of institutions on average reported having a program in place.

While the results didn’t vary widely based on the size of student enrollment, schools or districts who had 1:1 take-home devices tended to have a higher percentage of digital citizenship programs.

That isn’t necessarily surprising, but as the data above shows, students are accessing the internet on their own—and this isn’t an arena solely for 1:1 schools or grade levels.

What We Can Do About It

It’s clear that we need some sort of action, but where do we begin?

Rachel Murat, a history teacher at Maine Endwell High School in upstate New York, teaches a Digital Citizenship course along with her other history courses. Her students created and produced a “Positively Social” YouTube documentary as well as starting a #positivelysocial campaign as part of that course.

Murat recommends the following:

  1. Start with yourself. “I believe in walking the walk,” says Murat. “Are you kind online?”
  2. Begin with a small project, something that students can both design and contribute, that embodies the concept of being a positive digital leader.
  3. Check out some available resources, including Social Leadia, by Jennifer Casa-Todd, which explores how to move from digital citizenship to digital leadership.

And because something like digital citizenship is about a cultural shift more than activities or lessons, get involved and encourage leadership at your school or building to get involved.

Explore professional learning opportunities that focus on modeling digital citizenship as teachers—and find ways to make this part of an ongoing focus for your school or district. Check out existing curricular resources that can be embedded into day-to-day lessons, like Common Sense Education’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum ISTE has a Digital Citizenship Network where you can continue (and contribute to) the conversation.

Take part in Common Sense Education’s “Digital Citizenship Week” in October. Think about how you can inform and support the parent community in the effort through regular communication channels, honest conversations, and targeted resources.

Join my company’s Global Digital Citizenship Challenge this month to crowdsource ideas about how to impact students and their digital lives. Pledge to do something in your classroom or organization to affect change and embrace a positive culture.

Digital citizenship certainly isn’t a new topic, but as an educational community, we should strive to tackle this area in whatever ways that we can. Our students need this now more than ever—and they need our guidance, support, and modeling to successfully navigate the digital landscape in which they are already involved.

Kellie Ady is Schoology’s Director of Instructional Strategy. She was previously District Instructional Technology Coordinator for Cherry Creek School District. She is an experienced educator with specialties in professional development, blended learning, curriculum development, educational technology integration, and instructional design. 

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