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Mar 20

Chris Smeaton

Digital Citizenship

One of our schools, St. Mary in Taber, offers an archery club. The teacher/instructor is fully credentialed to teach archery and, as you can well imagine, safety is of the highest priority. It is understood that before any student picks up a bow and arrow, some significant safety training, rules and responsibilities are provided. We don’t want to imagine what would happen if we just allowed students to come in and begin practicing archery without those first lessons. We provide this training to ensure that our students are safe.

Yet, we typically give our children personal technology devices (cell phones, I-phones, etc.) with little thought of providing them with any safety training and without reviewing what constitutes responsible usage. Students at a very young age are being exposed to a digital world that should not be feared, but certainly respected. We should never allow students to engage in archery without formal training, nor should we allow students to access the digital world without some knowledge of digital citizenship.

I’m a great proponent of technology as a teaching tool and believe that students should not have to power down when they walk into schools. However for any tool to be used properly, it requires teaching and learning, and technology is no different. Banning technology is not the answer! Rather, students must understand the importance of responsible use.

In my era of schooling, slanderous remarks were often scribbled on the washrooms walls of schools. Comet, a little elbow grease or some fresh paint eliminated those comments fairly quickly.  Even inappropriate photographs and their negatives could be destroyed! Today however the digital footprint that each of us creates, or is created, without our knowledge or permission, is not as easily dismissed. In fact, your digital footprint is never fully eliminated.

The significant increase in cyber-bullying can be easily attributed to a lack of understanding of digital citizenship. Comments made online through social media or texting would rarely be repeated in a face-to-face conversation. Parents and teachers have always taught what is appropriate in those face-to-face conversations. Today, in our technology based world, it is even more important that we teach what is appropriate in those digital conversations too! Our children need those same understandings to properly communicate digitally. And this teaching must be initiated early, and must be ongoing at both home and in school. 

We know that part of learning as a youth is through mistakes. However, digital mistakes can result in consequences that are severely life changing. Ultimately, a strong partnership between home and school is required to ensure that digital citizenship is not only taught but more importantly role modeled on a daily basis. Parents and school staffs must continue to be vigilant in teaching digital citizenship to provide safe environments for all students in this connected world.

This article was published in the Lethbridge Herald on March 20, 2013.

1 comment

3 pings

  1. Jon David Groff

    This is fantastic! I was asked to teach a tech class last year to my school’s grade 8 class. This was after we lifted the ban on handheld devices for students 7-12 (we are a k-12 school). The year before we lifted the ban and ran into some issues. There was talk about reinstating the ban, however, a number of us teachers disagreed that we needed to do that. I argued that with some training, our students could learn to use tech responsibly. I received the responsibility of making that happen. I stumbled through a term and we saw some pretty encouraging results. This year I’m teaching the “course” to both grade 7 and 8 (last year’s 7’s didn’t get it) and the idea is to continue this as kids come into grade 7 and are allowed their devices. Any info you have to pass regarding creating a powerful digital citizenship program, I’d love to have. I’ll also be referencing your post here to others.

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