I’m excited to join the discussions on Digital Citizenship in Schools so I’m going to share my reflections here too (as well as on the discussion blog)…
Introduction: Digital natives vs. digital immigrants; natives have grown up digital and seem to instinctively understand it whereas immigrants have not grown up with digital tools and don’t seem to use them as instinctively. (I would argue that a bit…My students may be natives, but often I am more comfortable than they are with tech. Maybe that is because I’ve had more experience using technology than they have had in their short lives?)
Teachers ASSUME students as natives already know/understand everything. As an early childhood educator and gifted specialist, I know the importance of NOT making this assumption. Students need to be explicitly taught things. Things we easily take for granted. Teachers should NEVER assume a student “just knows” something.
Effective tech use often means the need to find a common ground because even if a user is comfortable they may not be appropriate.
I once heard someone say “the Internet has a dark side”. I couldn’t agree more; but the benefits far outweigh those risks in my opinion. I try to teach my 3rd/4th graders to stay away from the dark side; hopefully they will never encounter it, but if they do they need to know how to react. It serves no purpose to pretend it doesn’t exist. Shelter and protect…absolutely! But empower students to know what to do when something unexpected and “bad” comes up. We don’t have to teach them using examples but we need to be sure that they have some strategies to use should it happen. We practice fire drills monthly hoping we never have an emergency. Maybe we need “how to avoid the dark side” drills too?
The history: Communication with the masses started with the printing press. From there it grew with the telephone and television. And then there was the Internet…followed by mobile computing. With earlier technologies, it seems we had time to really set standards for use. There were controls and safeguards in place. For instance print could be monitored before the masses could read it. The telephone essentially was more private with limited users accessing (that is initially only 2 connections). Television programming had to be approved. Yet I feel as our society as a whole started to become more “desensitized”, standards dropped. When I was growing up, you didn’t hear curse words and “sex” was not portrayed on screen. Now it is commonplace and no one seems to notice. We are desensitized. (In my opinion). So…
Why is understanding the history/background important?
Well knowing our origins is important. The social implications of how rapidly mass communication has spread is critical. We have gained access to information and can communicate at an astounding rate, yet our filters and controls have not caught up. I would even argue they just do not exist. Maybe if we better understand the history of communication (or at least teach our students about it) they can better understand the implications of the “power” a device has. I think about the things I have to worry about my students having access to. That access wasn’t available with earlier technologies because standards and controls were in place and exercised. We monitored what we put out there for the masses. Today the filters seem non-existent unless we consciously work to put them there. So understanding history can help us understand the implications of using devices. We have problems today that didn’t exist in the past…earlier technologies brought communication to the masses but on a smaller scale with more control of content published. Today most people have access to the information as well as access to the content of the information put out. It seems that through history as more people started to gain access to information, more people started to have the power to put information out there. This then makes it the responsibility of individuals to decide what is valid, accurate, and appropriate instead of having others make that determination for us. People are more than just consumers of information…now they can all produce it. With this power comes great responsibility…
Clearly family dynamics and communities have changed because of technology. We would like to think that people will do the right thing, but they have to know what that is; who makes the judgement call? Who teaches this? Well we would hope it starts at home, but when devices are often used as replacements for “teachers” then the free flow of information (good and bad) is in charge. Technology used as “babysitters”…yeah that is a real problem.
“The hope is that how we act in the real world should be the same as in the online world.” I would agree, but with the ability to essentially be “anonymous” online, people can and do take on different personas. While I believe it is important to always treat others the way you expect to be treated, I think that keeping “digital citizenship” as a separate term is important. It seems there are many issues unique to being a digital citizen.
This all means that we need to educate everyone (not just students) on how to act with technology! For years, I focused on teaching young students just how to be respectful, caring, and responsible members of society. That now extends to being members of digital societies. I love digital citizenship REP’s: Respect, Educate, Protect! That is what we need more of… we need to save ourselves from ourselves I think. Mobile computing makes it so easy to be impulsive. It often means people act before they think! As an educator my goal is to help students prepare to be future citizens and technology is just part of that future.
What are other aspects of student interaction that are important to this topic, and perhaps not directly related to technology?
I think it is critical we teach students to communicate. Period. Whether it be face to face or virtually, there are basics we need to cover. Clearly treat others as you would want to be treated. Show kindness, compassion, and patience. What does it look like? What does it sound like? This includes face to face issues such as body language, tone, volume, stress, inflection; that is what goes into a verbal exchange. Just as the iCitizen project discovered we need to “humanize the person on the other side of the screen”. It is too easy to forget that, and for our young students, it is way to abstract for them to grasp. This is why when I integrate discussion in my classroom, I model it heavily. I show what it looks like and sounds like in every way. If this means two students are sitting right next to each other having a digital discussion, then we do it. Humanizing communication in every way possible makes it tangible and concrete for learners. Even ‘humanizing’ a face to face conversation can be done by teaching students how to make eye contact with each other and how to try to build upon what a person says instead of focusing on what you want to say while someone else is talking. These are real skills that have to be directly taught, modeled and practiced. Doing it in conjunction with digitally communicating makes it more ‘humanized’ as well.