The purpose of technology is not simply about automating the teaching and learning process, but to inspire and empower every student.

Part of this empowerment is knowing how to responsibly use technology. Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native” in his 2001 article entitled Digital Native, Digital ImmigrantsHe said, “Today’s students represent the first generation to grow up with technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers. Our students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet.”

Yet many educators realize that just because today’s students are “digital natives,” they do not automatically know how to transition from social use of technology to educational use. The transition, for many, is difficult, especially when adding a new layer of complexity with remote and hybrid learning. This is why the teaching of digital citizenship is essential.

There are five key steps or topics to consider in any digital citizenship program:

  1. Balance
  2. Safety
  3. Cyberbullying
  4. Responsibility
  5. Online Presence

Balance can be taught throughout a student’s educational career, starting at a very young age. Knowing how much screen time is acceptable, making smart choices of how to use free time, and knowing when it’s too much or possibly becoming an addiction all are key topics.

Safety also is an important topic that needs to be taught early on. Knowing what should stay private, what’s acceptable to be shared, the importance of passwords, that talking online should only be with those whom a student knows, and what to do when a student feels endangered are key areas to include.

Cyberbullying is a reality, unfortunately, even in elementary schools. Teaching how to be respectful, what cyberbullying is, how to respond to it, when/how to report it, and how to support victims should be introduced at an appropriate time.

Responsibility is a topic that should be introduced as students get older. This should cover a number of key ideas including properly citing, creative commons/fair use/public domain, what makes information credible, how to react to what is online, and how to avoid falling for online hoaxes, to name a few.

Online presence and social media should be the final step to be covered in a digital citizenship program. Some call this a digital footprint. This is important for young adults to learn as it can affect future college and job applications. It includes one’s identity, online personas, and relationships.

Some states have digital citizenship programs included in their state standards. Several areas discussed are covered in Common Core ELA standards. In addition, there are many online curriculums available, including Common Sense Media.

The teaching of digital citizenship is crucial. It can empower a student, not only for the future but for life.

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