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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

ISTE NETS*S Part 5: Digital Citizenship

This way to Farmville...This is my fifth article in a series of six about ISTE’s NETS*S (National Educational Technology Standards for Students).  The fifth standard is “Digital Citzenship.”

Digital Citizenship

Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.


  1. advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.
  2. exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.
  3. demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning.
  4. exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.

 (excerpted from

In my article, earlier in this series, about Research and Information Fluency, I wrote about citing sources.  This also falls under the umbrella of Digital Citizenship.  But this article’s topic includes so much more, and with so many young people establishing their digital presences online for the world to see, this issue is more pressing than ever.

I am surprised when I find that some of my middle school students don’t spend time on their assignments for me outside my class, despite having all the content on PBworks and Google Apps where they can get to it anywhere they can get online.  Yet they appear to have endless hours to spend on Facebook.  Sure, this is more a case of skewed priorities than citizenship, but it is a real issue.  We are challenged in today’s educational climate to make learning relevant for our learners – to meet them where they are.  But when I make their assignments accessible online from anywhere, breaking down the walls of the traditional classroom to allow for learning anywhere at any time, many students still resist.  They certainly do learn and feel motivated by being online and pursuing their interests.  However, when I give them more decision-making power in their projects and assignments, they express discomfort with having to make such decisions themselves.  They seem to be afraid to accept learning outside the classroom according (somewhat) to their own rules.  I find this a little disturbing.

I have heard over and over that the youth of today feel disconnected with how we do school because they have to unplug from all their devices and behave in ways that stifle their creativity and bore them to tears.  Yet I receive questions every day that highlight the conformity that we have bred into them and they seem afraid to shake off: How many slides do we have to have? (for a project in which I did not even specify that they HAD to create a slideshow)  Which font do we have to use? (pick one I will find readable)

Actually, as I ponder this, I realize that they crave structure and strict rules about the areas in which I want them to think for themselves, but when I give specific guidelines about legal aspects of a project, and repeat myself daily, they ignore my commands.  (I’m thinking specifically about the sites I allow them to use to find pictures for projects when I forbid a Google Images search – which some of them still do anyway.)  So I guess the students are just trying to drive me crazy.  That’s what it is.

I think a big part of the issue may be the culture surrounding being a student in our society today.  Achievement you can measure with a test seems to be the only target many students can strive toward.  They’ll fight for a point or two on the grade while completely missing the point of the assignment.  So many of them are not learning for the purpose of seeking knowledge.  They’re attending school, completing requirements, and scoring points toward the next school they hope to get into.  I worry about what will happen when they someday complete formal education and there are no more tests to take.

Ubiquitous access can change societyToday’s students claim to ache for more relevant learning experiences, yet they refuse to break the shackles of a broken education system.  Are today’s students addicted to the centuries-old way we “do school”?  Who’s to blame? Government, teachers, parents?  I don’t know the answer to that, but I have an idea that might be part of the solution.

Teachers: whenever possible, change your projects and assignments into experiences that mimic real-life scenarios your students will face in future workplaces.  Remember, there WILL be repetitive tasks like generating expense reports and writing letters.  But there will also be group meetings and telecommuting and travel.  There will be office politics and backstabbing.  There will be time spent alone, when you’re supposed to be working on a project – and your boss better not catch you on Facebook tending to your virtual crops.  People who don’t have opinions or can’t think for themselves will quickly find themselves unemployed or asking for others to answer questions for them, such as “do you want fries with that?”

Parents: ask yourselves whether you prefer good grades or good people.  We can push our children to overachieve, but at what expense?  Are they really learning what they need to know to be successful adults?  And are they learning the people skills they’ll need to keep on good terms with the future boss . . . or to be the boss?  Most importantly, do you know what your kids are doing online, and do you talk with them about it?  If not, you’re letting them loose on a potentially outlaw alternate society whose rules don’t apply to the professional world.  Would you expect kids raised on the streets to handle themselves well in a five-star restaurant?  Not without some training.  So stay involved with your kids’ online lives so you don’t have to work double to undo the damage later.

Finally, if we want today’s students to emulate lifelong learning and responsible use and behavior in online environments, we adults must model this ourselves.  I’m going to go out on a limb here, and the views I express are solely my own.  This means we use appropriate language ourselves.  This means we refrain from activities we wouldn’t want our grandmothers seeing us engaged in.  This means that if we play games, me model both appropriate time management and judicious selection of subject matter in our choices.  In plain English, what this looks like on my Facebook page is that I don’t play many games, and those I do play have nothing to do with crime, violence, or the undead.  I am careful not to swear on Facebook.  I have a lot of current and former students as Facebook friends – partly because it keeps me accountable and I strive to be the same person out in the open that I am behind closed doors.  If I live my life as an open book, then I shouldn’t have chapters that resurface later that I am embarrassed about.  That doesn’t mean I have never made mistakes or demonstrated poor judgment; it just means that I grew out of that period of my life before we, as a society, began publicly broadcasting all our lapses of common sense for the entire world to see.  Now that EVERYTHING can be exposed sooner or later, we need to make good choices and avoid hypocrisy.  If not for ourselves, then for the next generation.  The professional athletes  and other celebrities sure aren’t going to do it for us.

Image is from Flickr user taberandrew, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.
Image is from Flickr user, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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