Triggering Event Question: What are the most important technology-relevant societal issues to address in an evolving digital culture, and how do I best address them with elementary students?
The ISTE Standard 4 for Teachers is about digital citizenship and calls on teachers to model, teach and promote digital citizenship in an ever increasingly connected world. However, it is difficult to set forth in teaching young students to be good digital citizens without having a clear picture of the current societal issues threatening the very practice of digital citizenship. For that reason my research question this week was twofold; I wanted to identify the primary issues to confront with digital citizenship, and then move on to finding good resources for teaching young learners about this important concept.
In my research two primary areas of concern for young students’ use of technology emerged repeatedly: appropriate ‘netiquette’ and online interactions in general, and maintaining health and wellness as it relates to technology use. However, far and away the greatest threat to students’ online interactions these days is cyberbullying. (Winn, 2011-12) As most adults can attest, interacting online involves a significant level of anonymity that does not exist in typical face-to-face exchanges. As a result, a culture has emerged that allows and accepts behavior that would be considered extremely rude and psychologically damaging if displayed in person. “Internet trolls” seem to enjoy disparaging others online because there is no actual human face or body language to evoke guilt, and unfortunately we see this occurring in the greatest numbers for our older elementary and secondary student population. It is time for teachers to stop ignoring the fact that students of all ages are using technology in a social environment without actually developing the unique social skills required. As educators, we must embrace the power of technology to teach the kind of empathy and compassion that our students will need to learn as they engage in a global world more and more every day. This is the root of digital citizenship.
The most powerful method that I found of addressing cyberbullying head on and cultivating online empathy was the use of school-based social networking sites. Much like typical social networking sites with which we are all familiar (Facebook, Twitter, etc), school-based sites allow students to create and maintain a personal profile, as well as interact with other profiles on the same network. The benefit of a school-based site, however, is that the network can be limited to just the school in which it is operating, creating a safety net without sacrificing authenticity of engagement. Popular sites such as Social Engine, Edmodo, or Ning all provide this kind of platform.
Using any of these sites, schools can set up a network, invite anyone with a school ID, and consistently monitor and interact with all profiles as necessary. (Winn, 2011-12) These school-based networks offer kids the opportunity to practice social network etiquette and build the kind of empathy previously mentioned. As Soetoro-Ng and Milofsky (2016) explain in their article:
Root causes of conflict can be moderated with discussion that engenders curiosity about other perspectives, builds empathy, and makes complexity a friend rather than a foe. As some schools are already demonstrating, opportunities abound for incorporating these kinds of lessons into the standard curriculum. (para. 10)
I really like the idea of using a school-based social network in my classroom because it is an online platform with which we can realistically expect our students to relate. It is extremely likely that teenagers, and even younger kids, will begin using a social network on their own, so providing them a safe opportunity as soon as possible to practice the skills required, as well as creating a vehicle with which to directly teach issues of digital citizenship in the classroom seems highly logical. In an article shared by a classmate, Britte Taylor, titled Navigate the Digital Rapids, Lindsay and Davis (2010) urge educators to begin teaching students about digital etiquette and internet safety as soon as possible: “When should begin educating students? As soon as they start using digital tools for communication, collaboration, and creation through connections online or offline. […] Digital citizenship awareness can begin as soon as tiny fingers tap the keys” (p. 14). As school is usually the first environment in which young kids begin formally learning how to be responsible and happy citizens in their surrounding world, it only makes sense that we should teach them the same skills for the digital world as well.
Lindsay, J., Davis, V. (2010) Navigate the Digital Rapids. Learning & Leading with Technology. March/April 2010. 12-15.
Soetoro-Ng, M., Milofsky, A. (2016) The Urgent Call to Replace Fear with Curiosity. Education Week. 35(25). 23-28. retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/03/23/the-urgent-call-to-replace-fear-with.html
Winn, M.R. (2011-12) Promote Digital Citizenship through School-Based Social Networking. Learning & Leading with Technology. December/January 2011-12. 10-13.