Students using smartphones and tablet
Outside the Classroom

Digital Citizenship Needs to Be Taught

When I was in school there was no Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram. If I wanted a photo with my friends I had to use my allowance to buy film, use my babysitting money to develop that film, and convince my parents to drive me to the store to pick up my photos—all the while not knowing whether my eyes were closed or someone’s finger was blocking the flash. I remember when my friends and I first started participating in chat rooms (ah, dial-up). We were very young, entranced by the fact that we could “change” our names and choose the color and font of our words, and we never considered who we were really talking to—complete strangers.

We assume students learn about “stranger danger,” being considerate to others, general safety, etc., but this isn’t always the case, especially in an online setting. I look back and think about how naive I really was and I see this lack of awareness today in the online interactions of both students and adults. This month is Connected Educator Month, and this week, common sense education is hosting Digital Citizenship Week.

Every day we are becoming more connected. This is a time not only to teach and remind your students about the importance of their actions and interactions online, but also to review your own. Here are a few reminders or things to consider before posting a comment, photo, or personal information online:

  •  Do you use the same password for multiple sites? People often use the same password simply for convenience, but this is not best practice when it comes to keeping your information secure.
  • Shared images are never secure. Often people believe that images are private, such as on Snapchat, because the images “disappear” after they timeout, or because they are shared with a particular group. It is important to understand that they technically still exist and can be hacked.
  • Understand what a digital footprint is. A digital footprint is exactly what it sounds like; it is the trail your online actions leave behind. Students need to know that colleges and employers take these actions into consideration.
  • Do you trust the site or person you are interacting with? This seems like a basic question, but with blogs, forums, Twitter chats, etc., online interactions with strangers are increasing. This doesn’t mean you need to personally know who you are interacting with, but it does mean you need to be conscientious of those interactions.

The Internet is a wonderful place where ideas can be exchanged, collaboration can happen, and new connections can be made. But when it comes to navigating in a digital space, people need to understand the landscape as well as ask themselves this common sense question, “What are the possible consequences of my actions?”

About the Author

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Sean Haas