Digital citizenship refers to the responsible use of technology by anyone who uses computers, the Internet, and digital devices to engage with society on any level.
As the rate of technological advancement continues to increase, the world as a whole is becoming more dependent on the Internet for day-to-day activities. That makes this a crucial topic to teach today’s students.
Good digital citizenship for students engages them and shows them how to connect with one another, empathize with each other, and create lasting relationships through digital tools.
Bad digital citizenship, on the other hand, entails cyberbullying, irresponsible social media usage, and a general lack of knowledge about how to safely use the Internet.
Fortunately, almost all of the requirements to be a good digital citizen can be taught in the classroom.
What Concepts Does Digital Citizenship Include?
If you want to teach this subject, you'll want to focus on seven key concepts:
How the Internet works
Understanding user data
Practicing digital literacy
Acknowledging the digital divide
Practicing digital wellness
Securing digital devices
These seven topics may sound complex, but they’re surprisingly simple once you start planning.
This is because empathy is crucial to understanding how people talk and behave online.
Because Internet use relies largely on text-based communications, it’s impossible to hear someone’s vocal tone, see their facial expressions, or understand other non-verbal cues that you get when you’re speaking to someone face-to-face.
As a result, it’s incredibly easy for Internet users to make quick, harsh judgments about someone’s statements online.
That means Internet users (including your students) can trade quick verbal or text-based blows that are intended to hurt someone’s feelings instead of carrying on a typical conversation that you may hear over a phone call or face to face.
This lesson focuses on networking (digital machines all linked together by the Internet) and hardware (the actual machines themselves).
It also includes concepts such as communication, central processing units, hard drives, computers, and more.
With this lesson, you can show students the basics of how the Internet functions so that they can increase their digital literacy!
3. Understanding User Data
User data is one of the most complex and concerning concepts in the digital age.
Just about every company with a website collects data on the people who visit it. That data may be as simple as the pages that someone views, and it could be as complex as someone’s home address.
Most of the websites on the Internet use this information for marketing purposes. It helps them understand their customers a little bit better, and it helps companies connect with people in a meaningful way.
However, other websites use this opportunity maliciously. They may “mine” someone’s web browser for their search history. They might also attach a “cookie,” or unique identifier, to someone’s web browser to see the other websites they visit.
Then, many of these companies take this data, package it together, and sell it to the highest bidder.
While almost every country has laws dictating that companies can’t collect data on individuals younger than 18 (or 13 in some places), the fact of the matter is that it happens anyway.
As a result, your students need to know about personal data — and they need to know how they can protect themselves!
How Do You Teach Students About User Data?
Teaching user data is hard because very few outlets actuallyaddressuser data in the first place. In fact, it’s such a new phenomenon — and its use is typically a closely-guarded secret — that many teachers may not evenknowabout it, much less be in a position to teach students.
A “digital footprint” is the mark that someone’s web browser leaves on the Internet.
Whenever you go to any website, you’re tracked by some software that sees your “footprint.” Then, when you return, that same software matches up your previous footprint with your current website visit. The result is that websites know who you are, how many times you’ve visited their website, and what you’ve done while visiting.
Some organizations — like Facebook and Google — may even track your Internet behavioroutsideof their websites.
Whether it’s legal, ethical, or practical is unfortunately not currently debated in mainstream society.
However, that’s all the more reason to teach your students that they’re almost always being watchedwhen they’re using the Internet.
4. Practicing Digital Literacy
Digital literacy is the practice of reading information online and understanding what it means, where it originated, and whether it’s accurate.
As a result, digital literacy is one of the hardest concepts to teach to students. It’s also one of the most important qualities for students to become good digital citizens!
After all, how can they practice good digital citizenship if they can’t discern accurate information from misinformation online?
A solid digital literacy curriculum includes learning about ethics, protecting yourself online, and even preventing cyberbullying.
Still, if you’re looking for the summary version of digital literacy, you can wrap it up in three concepts.
Clickbait refers to any text, headline, video title, etc. that’s deliberately written to pique someone’s interest and get them to click.
Generally speaking, clickbait is written by organizations that want to get people to their website so they can show ads and earn revenue. It’s also used by malicious website owners who want to infect individuals’ computers with malware.
In short, the rule of thumb isnotto click a link or a video with a title that makes someone feel outrage. This is a hard urge to fight, but it can make the difference between good digital citizenship for students or having their computers infected with viruses!
Even worse, your students could click an article that delivers fake news to them.
Fake news is a relatively new phenomenon. It refers to any media outlet publishing severely biased or intentionally false information.
Fake news is most often used with clickbait titles to get readers and alter people’s opinions with ineffective claims or outright lies. It’s also a key part of anyinformation literacy curriculum.
In essence, if students ever read something that sounds incredibly skewed to one ideology over another, it’s fake news. The same goes for any piece that’s written by admittedly biased entertainment sources, tabloids, gossip websites, rumor mills, or social media posts.
As a general rule, if your students ever see an unflattering image of someone with text plastered at the top and / or bottom, you can safely assume it’s fake news and best left ignored.
It may look a little funny to talk about this again, but empathy is actually a big part of teaching digital literacyanddigital citizenship for students.
This is because a successful digital literacy curriculum requires students to think beneath the face-value text that they’re reading online. Instead, they need empathy to truly understand the information they’re absorbing.
This makes students question a writer’s motivations behind something they see posted on social media. It may also prompt students to reach out with words of comfort to someone who they see in distress online.
Regardless of how it’s applied, there’s no wrong way to go when you’re teaching empathy.
Unfortunately, that means the remaining Americans in that percentage simply can’t afford Internet access.
Some schools will have a disproportionately high quantity of those students. Others may have none at all.
But if your students aren’t aware of the digital divide, then they may end up assuming that all students have equal access to the Internet — which is patently false.
At the same time, you don’t want to ask students whodon’thave home Internet access to identify themselves to illustrate this point. That’s embarrassing, and it could end up having a negative impact on your classroom.
So how can you introduce students to such a strange topic without isolating students in your class?
How Do You Acknowledge the Digital Divide?
The International Publisher of Information Science and Technology Researchsupplies dozens of different resources you can use to learn more about the digital divide.
Some of these resources are appropriate for the classroom. Others may only work for older students in high school.
The key is to find the information you need — even if it’s just informing your students that some people are fortunate enough to have more than others — and bring it to the forefront of your class.
6. Practicing Digital Wellness
Digital wellness is the practice of refraining from indulging in the Internet and digital media for reasonable amounts of time.
In other words, it’s the practice of knowing when to “take a break” from screens.
Basically, VPNs place a protective shell around your students’ data as it travels throughout the Internet. Not even Internet service providers (ISPs) can crack it, although the VPN provider can still decode what you’re doing.
The principles of VPNs are based around security, privacy, and the idea that companies aren’t entitled to steal your online data.
When you and your students use one, you’re adding an extra layer of protection to your online presence that can make the difference between a carefree life online and identity theft.
Finally, you can talk about antivirus software.Antivirus software comes in many forms and names, but it all does the same general task — keeping your possessions and information safe from those who would steal it.
All of this information acts like an extra padlock that you attach to a treasure chest. The more locks your students have on their personal information, the harder it is for anyone to steal it!
With all of this in mind, there’s one final question we still have to answer.
There’s so much here, and there’s so much that you can teach your students with the right digital citizenship curriculum.
So where do you even start?
How Can You Teach Digital Citizenship?
Overall, there's no best way to teach digital citizenship. Some teachers pull digital citizenship lessons and activities from various places to build their course, while others prefer using a comprehensive digital citizenship curriculum.
But If you're interested in a more robust digital citizenship curriculum, consider iCEV.
iCEV is a comprehensive CTE curriculum system designed to prepare students for career success. You can use iCEV to teach digital citizenship, digital responsibility, career development, professionalism, and much more.