Too often, the message to kids is simply, “Be nice when you’re online and stay away from perverts.” While I agree that cyber-bullying and sexual predators are both important things to avoid, it seems as though the school system is being myopic in defining citizenship.
After all, if we take the word “digital” out of it, teachers wouldn’t tell students, “Be a great citizen. To do so, you need to be nice and stay away from perverts.” Instead, we talk about character, democracy, civic engagement and critical thinking. What if we took the same approach to digital interaction? What if we transitioned from “be nice” to “be ethical?”
The following are the five areas:
#1: Identity: Often, teachers talk to students about “digital footprint” and the focus is almost entirely on avoiding liability and asking students to show their best work. Students hear stories about employers who raided Facebook accounts for ethical flaws (and teachers often do this without asking teachers to examine the power of corporations on one’s private life). What if we taught them to be authentic? What if we asked them to engage in meaningful digital story-telling? And what if, more importantly, we asked students to think ethically about the role of technology in redefining what it means to be human.
#2: Collaboration: I want students to know how to co-create and communicate online. I want them to know how to speak boldly, but respectfully. Nice people keep the status quo. Ethical people engage in conflict in order to solve problems. I want them to show empathy as they engage in meaningful discourse – not for the skills of a New Economy, but for the success of democracy.
#3: Critical Thinking: Critical thinkers aren’t necessarily “nice.” They are folks who can find the bias in sources, see multiple viewpoints, understand nuance, think in paradox and solve problems. If democracy is going to succeed, it requires critical thinkers. I also want them to think critically about the medium itself. True, they have the world at the palm of their hands, but I also want them to feel the grass beneath their feet.
#4: Creativity: I understand the need for digital citizenship to address issues of copyright. However, I want students to contribute to the creative commons and to curate resources that they find. I want them to learn to be innovative problem-solvers who can choose tech tools effectively. In the process of problem-solving, students need to pick the tools effectively.
#5: Engagement: When I look at the Arab Spring, I am reminded that they used social media for social change. I want students to be pocket journalists, contributing to an informed citizenry. I want them to explore issues, engage with the community, and express their social voice.