As with most aspects of education, a solid partnership between home and school is instrumental to success. When it comes to digital citizenship, things are not different. Creating this partnership can present its challenges, but a concerted effort, and giving a voice to all the relevant stakeholders, will improve the chances to have a positive outcome for all.
Why teach Digital Citizenship?
There are approximately 3.9 billion Internet users today. This number has exponentially grown since the Internet became widely available to the public in the 90s and it is safe to assume it will continue to do so in the future. Of all the Internet users, more than 70% of them are active social media users.
Undeniably, with the Internet, and with the advancement of technologies such as personal computers, tablets and smartphones, we have been able to create a digital extension of our physical world. As a result, it is imperative that we teach students their rights and responsibilities as digital citizens and how to navigate this world in a safe and constructive way.
The NSW Department of Education and Communities promotes a definition of digital citizenship that is all-encompassing and that I have personally used with my students:
Digital citizenship isn’t just about recognising and dealing with online hazards. It’s about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage personal information, and about being internet savvy – using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same.
Teaching in partnership
As schools come to grasp the depth and breadth of changing digital literacy and digital citizenship demands, so are parents trying to figure out how to manage their own digital lives and how to support and guide their children in theirs. In my experience, in order to build a robust education around digital citizenship, it is essential to build bridges where the interests of students, parents and school intersect.
I have a privileged position in terms of spotting and fostering these connections. As part of my position as Head of Grade 6 at my school, I oversee the pastoral curriculum for this grade level. At the beginning of our 6-week Digital Citizenship unit, we start the conversation with students by creating with them a social media inventory. This inventory serves various purposes. First, it helps us identify what are the most common social media platforms these students are using, so we can tailor the learning engagements about online safety and privacy and how they create their digital footprint through those. Second, it serves as a conversation starter with parents about how much they know about their children’s online presence and how they can support from home. Here is the inventory from one of the G6 classes last year.
When last I presented this to parents in a meeting, I did two activities to help them connect with the information. First, I divided the parents into groups and gave each group cut-outs of the icons from most of the apps mentioned in the inventory, plus other ones that were not there but that have been popular with tweens and teens (e.g. fake calculator app that gives hidden storage and others apps of the sort). The goal here was for parents to see if they could identify the apps behind the icons, and to see if they could sort them into different categories according to their purpose (gaming, social, school, news/media, etc.). After doing this activity, parents voiced lots of concerns about how little they knew about the array of apps that their children engage with, thus not knowing how to advise their children on appropriate use. This allowed me to point the parents to various sources where they could find information about those apps and how to address them with their children (e.g. the reviews provided by Common Sense Media). The information was relevant and timely for them, which in turn opened the door for further communication from individual parents seeking help with specific issues they wanted support with. During the meeting, we engaged the parents on other topics related to online safety and cyberbullying. We ended with a survey of topics that parents wanted more guidance with, which allowed us to create a relevant repository of resources for them. We also encouraged parents to start these conversations at home with their children.
With the students, using the social media inventory they have created, we asked the, to categorize the apps according to the topics that concerned them the most when using the app: privacy, safety or cyberbullying. The students could place one app under more than one topic. Using this information, we tailored most of our activities on those topics around the apps that the students mentioned in order to give the students content that was relevant and relatable. Below, is one of the products created by a group of Grade 6 students to help other students deal with cyberbullying.
After opening the conversation with parents and students about digital citizenship, the feedback from the parents was overall very positive, but a common comment was, why leave it to almost the end of the school year? (Our digital citizenship unit happens halfway through Semester 2).
I’m with the parents on this. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this unit can’t be moved forward. Nonetheless, I think it is necessary to offer the parents a space where they can, on a regular basis, come together to discuss digital citizenship issues, concerns and successes, and where the school can offer guidance and receive feedback. This, to me, would be a true partnership that would benefit all.