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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

ISTE NETS*T Part 4: Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility

This is the fourth in a series of five articles about the NETS*T (National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers) from ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education).  We are accustomed to thinking about standards for student achievement.  But we can really raise the bar by having a certain level of expectation for teachers in the use of technology.  What better way to encourage students to gain important life skills than to model them ourselves?

The fourth of these standards is “Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility.” 

Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility

Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices. Teachers:

  1. advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources.
  2. address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources.
  3. promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information.
  4. develop and model cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital-age communication and collaboration tools.

 (excerpted from http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/NETS/ForTeachers/2008Standards/NETS_for_Teachers_2008.htm)

I want YOU to embrace digital literacy in your classroom (Uncle Sam poster)If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and warning students about the digital footprint they leave online.  A few careless posts and a slew of hastily-shared photographs can mean the difference between success and rejection when it comes to college acceptances and future job interviews.  Young people act without thinking first; it’s the trademark of their age.  But give them online platforms like Facebook, MySpace, and Formspring, and they have a huge world stage on which to potentially embarrass themselves.  And they tend to mistakenly think the Internet gives them some degree of anonymity – which most of us adults realize is not really possible.

So, should we ban all under-18s from these sites and more like them?  On the contrary; they’re going to use them even before the age of 13, which is the requirement for many such sites, so we might as well teach them – or even model for them – how to use these online platforms as safely and responsibly as we can.  If we can meet them where they are and set an example of how to behave online, we establish “street cred” for ourselves in the students’ own domain, and this can carry over to other areas of digital literacy.

Just like children watch their parents, students look to their teachers to demonstrate appropriate behaviors.  When an educator is found guilty of some crime or even poor judgment where students are concerned, kids as a group feel betrayed.  Teens especially, looking to become independent from their parents, place a lot of trust in their teachers, coaches, and counselors.  It’s a huge responsibility but also an opportunity.  This may be a big part of why districts try to restrict or govern use of social networking sites by staff, or at least by staff in conjunction with students.  While I agree that it is good to have some awareness and encourage adults to be careful in their online dealings with students, I think we can be missing a chance to connect with kids in meaningful ways if we build walls between “us” and “them” online.

Young people desperately seek role models.  Instead of leaving them to the professional athletes, recording artists, and other celebrities (with their womanizing, weapons charges, substance abuse, and other issues), why not provide them with people they really know in person?  This means that if we allow students to be our Facebook friends, we must conduct ourselves appropriately at all times.  Any adult who is not willing to do that – in my opinion, at least – does not deserve the privilege of working with children.  Parents should still be VERY aware of what their children do online.  But I know, as a parent myself, that when my son is old enough to have his own online presence, I’ll be reassured to know that other adults I know and trust will be watching his behavior.

Once we open the door to this kind of trust and communication online, we create opportunities for other informal teachable moments.  These often involve matters of “ethical and legal behavior,” as the standard specifies, regarding media use and digital etiquette.  If a student creates a video with pictures of school friends, includes copyrighted music, and posts it on YouTube or Facebook, I can very likely see it and address a few issues.  In such a case, I privately contact the student and ask them the following questions: For all minors appearing in your video, do you have the clear consent of their parents to use their likenesses?  Do you know that using the song you chose is a violation of the law?  Are you sure you want someone to find this five or ten (or even two) years from now and know it was you who put it together?

lifeguard at a poolIf we can open up dialog at this level, we create new avenues for using the students’ own interests and expertise with online tools to encourage more and better learning experiences.  The students are likely bridging distances already by maintaining contact with friends and family members who don’t live close to them.  When you’re looking for ways to globalize student projects, perhaps you need to look no farther than your students’ friends lists for adults in other regions to contact for collaborative communication.  It can certainly make more real for your students this idea of interconnectedness in business, education, and other fields.

You’ve probably heard the analogy that compares Internet filtering and site blocking to building a huge fence around a pool rather than teaching kids to swim.  When we join students online, we go swimming with them, or at least sit beside the pool.  I don’t mind taking on the role of digital lifeguard once in a while.  Like a lifeguard, I will spend most of my time making short verbal pronouncements: be careful, don’t do that, you need to get out of the pool for a bit.  I may go my entire career without having to do a full-scale drowning rescue. (I sure hope so.)  But we’d never allow our kids in the pool without a lifeguard, so if we teachers don’t help out, there may be no one else to do it.

Embrace Digital Literacy image from Flickr user Wesley Fryer, some rights reserved, Creative Commons

Lifeguard picture from Flickr user strollers, some rights reserved, Creative Commons

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