Interaction with learners

It’s time to think seriously about the digital citizenship license for our children

Have you heard of the digital driver’s license? It’s not exactly the digital format of a driver’s license, but a license that validates that we understand all the rules and guidelines of being good digital citizens.

Although the last two years have catapulted us into online meetings and classes, in previous years we have already seen a steady increase in the use of digital devices. According to a Common Sense Media survey, 41% of families had a mobile device in 2011 and in 2017 that number was 95%. In 2011, less than 10% of families owned a tablet while in 2017, this figure had risen to 80%. For today’s families, screens are a part of life and they’re not going away. In the absence of definitive research-based advice, it is essential to strike a balance.

Writing in The New York Times, pediatrician and journalist Dr. Perri Klass explains that, “Since most of us rely on technology to do our jobs and stay connected, we – and our children – need to find healthy ways to using it and not letting it take over our lives. While I recognize that screens or online interactions have adverse effects on us, the inevitability of screens in our lives makes me think of the analogy with the car. The average number of car accidents in the United States alone is 6 million each year. Despite these facts, we still drive them because it is an essential part of our lives and extremely useful. We let the children ride with us in the cars, but we make sure they follow all safety protocols.

Should we tell our children never to learn to drive a car because of the dangers? Instead, we sit next to them and teach them how to do it well. We help them learn car controls and navigate the road. Often we practice these standards with them, even proactively, when they are not old enough to be in the front seat of the car. Our children, when they are older, will have to pass the driving test before driving a car. We strive to be with them and teach them how to drive a car long before we let them drive alone.

Shouldn’t we do the same to help them navigate the digital world?

Shouldn’t the same reasoning apply to being a digital user of online platforms?

Shouldn’t there be tests that every student should pass to validate them as responsible digital citizens?

As technology continues to move like a roller coaster, defining best practices for the digital world is imperative. A few years ago, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) developed the Digital Driver’s License Project – a set of internet safety guidelines and questions for students and schools. I think such a program should be available in all schools. It is as important as learning to read, write and count.

Here are some principles that every student should learn before venturing into the digital world. These are the qualities that a good digital citizen must possess in order to behave responsibly in the online world.

Make the right choices, ask when in doubt

Just like using good judgment on the road, we need to teach children to make good choices when online and encourage them to ask when in doubt. I cannot stress enough that digital tools are not just a means of entertainment, they are also tools to advance learning and keep up with the changing times. In the United States alone, 62% of working adults use the Internet for their work. This is the world for which today’s students must be prepared. We should teach our children to spend meaningful time on digital devices in addition to games and fun. Children are inherently curious. If we channel it properly, the online space can be a great place to introduce kids to shows that will complement learning.

Safety first

The only thing that won’t protect children in the online world is keeping them away from it. It may seem counterintuitive, but kids are curious and pushing them away will only tempt them to be online without safety barriers. Instead, we should explore online games or shows with them in a safe and limited way. This will allow us to give them the right advice and guide them in their intention to use the digital world. We make sure they are aware of the risks online exposure can bring. Stick to age-appropriate information and teach them about safety. Tell them to be careful what they post online, never share passwords, and never reveal personal information to strangers online. Six million teenagers say they have received inappropriate images from someone they know. It is essential to be conscientious when communicating through a variety of digital channels. Talk to kids about making responsible online purchase decisions and protecting payment information. A typical teenager reports losing an average of $400 to cybercrime.

Show respect and empathy

As you would practice being respectful to other drivers on the road, model and practice digital citizenship in the classroom. Today, kids use platforms like Seesaw or Google Classroom to post work online. They can use the same platforms to exchange constructive feedback. When commenting online, ask children to use the same words they would say out loud face to face with their peers. Encourage positive communication. 88% of teens using social media have seen someone being mean or cruel. It’s important to realize that harsh words through a computer screen can hurt just as much as when spoken directly to us. These practices are not limited to the classroom environment. Practice and display the same behavior when discussing social media at home.

So what does a typical digital citizenship test look like?

No learning is complete without some assessment. When I think of guidelines that will help children and young adults to be good citizens, I think the curriculum should also contain assessments like these. Real life scenarios that will help young learners think through and embrace empathy in the digital world. Courtesy of the International Society for Technology in Education, here is an example.

Question: Jamie is working on a “You Look Like a Celebrity” page for the soon to be released school yearbook. His job is to find photos of celebrities who look like college students. He found several images online that will be perfect and gets to work editing the yearbook page. Is it correct?

To respond: No, it’s not legal if Jamie does a Google search, finds some great pictures, saves them to his desktop, and starts putting them in the yearbook layout. Not only did Jamie not state where he got the images, but more than likely the photographer did not release them for public or commercial purposes. Jamie could ask the artist for permission, but most of the time photographers are hard to come by. Jamie must either cite the sources of the images if they are published for reproduction, or carry out Creative Commons searches for different images.

So, are you ready to help your kids become great digital citizens?