A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column for our local paper, the Lethbridge Herald on Digital Citizenship. In many ways it was a tongue and cheek article that compared the teaching of archery and the teaching of digital citizenship. The premise was that while we would never allow children to pick up a bow and arrow without any instruction we often give our children technology without any formal training or boundaries. And while I received many re-tweets when I posted it on Twitter and a follow up editorial in the paper, one article will never be enough. Digital citizenship or more correctly defined as responsible citizenship in a digital age will never be achieved without intentional and ongoing teaching and learning at school but always beginning at home.
How many stories do we have to hear about another young man or woman committing suicide to escape the wrath of cyber bullying before we pull our heads of the sand and admit we have a catastrophic issue? How many times do we allow excuses to justify these actions? Simply, there are no excuses for a child taking his or her own life because of being cyber bullied.
Fortunately, we have many means to make an impact on this growing issue. There are some tremendous resources for parents and teachers alike that can assist in raising responsible citizens in a digital age. Banning technology at home or at school is not the answer. However, monitoring use and teaching children to be responsible is not a choice anymore, it is a must! A great starting point for parents is a contract with their child when they receive a smart-phone. I’ve included an example here from Janell Burley Hofmann that can be modified to fit one’s needs. One of our own teachers, Carmen Larsen (@larsenc14), did her graduate work on this topic and her weebly sits on our website as an excellent guide to both staff and parents. There are resources for staff and parents for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. I would highly encourage parents to check out Common Sense Media. It has a great section for parents entitled “Parent Media and Technology Education Program.” Nicole Lakusta from Parkland School Division is also creating a Digital Citizenship Divisional Scope and Sequence document that is extremely helpful.
It is not the means that we require but rather the will. In 2015, the new Education Act will take effect in the Province of Alberta. It is a comprehensive document that outlines significant responsibilities for parents, teachers, and school boards regarding bullying both in and out of school. In our current society it will likely be a dismissal failure if we (as a society) continually point fingers and refuse to take responsibility for our own actions. The end result will be legal battle after legal battle and an education system that desires engagement and partnerships becoming more closed. Facing litigation should not be the sole reason to insist that digital citizenship is part of what we regularly do at home and in school. Our decision to ensure responsible citizenship in a digital age must be based on our values and our ethics. It must be done with intent because it is far too important to be left to chance.