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Professional Opinion

The importance of digital citizenship in schools

Why schools should help young people navigate the digital landscape
Mike Ribble is technology director of Manhattan-Ogden School District in Kansas. He is also an international author and speaker on digital citizenship.
Mike Ribble is technology director of Manhattan-Ogden School District in Kansas. He is also an international author and speaker on digital citizenship.

Technology has provided administrators with some great opportunities for communication and data analysis, but for our students it means so much more.

To help our students, we need to show that with all these opportunities come responsibilities. All administrators have read, or lived through, instances of cyberbullying, sexting and even suicide that have come from the misuse of technology.

All users of technology need to come to grips with how to use the tools of today and how to become digital citizens.

Understanding digital citizenship

Humans are predisposed to connect with other people. We come together so that we can see and help each other, and enjoy one another’s company. Technology has provided us with a new community, one where we may not always see one another but can share our hopes, dreams and even our disappointments.

Since we have been accessing this digital society for only about 30 years, we are still working to understand our own digital citizenship.

We have the opportunity, at the school level, to use technology to help ourselves, our families and children to become better digital citizens.

Digital citizenship focuses on using technology in an appropriate way while enjoying its vast capabilities and becoming more productive.

Digital Citizenship in Schools, 2nd Ed., identifies three main categories—respect, education and protection (or REP)—to guide the use of technology in schools, at home and in the community. These are broken down in three ways and a total of nine underlying areas of focus:

  • Respect: Digital etiquette, access and the law. 
  • Educate: Digital communication, literacy and commerce. 
  • Protect: Digital rights and responsibilities, safety and security, and health and wellness.

These are all provided to help everyone understand the complex nature of technology, social media and the internet. Each REP area has us look not only at how we use technology but how we help others as well.

Another important area, especially when cyberbullying is discussed, is empathy for others. Empathy has us think about the feelings of people, before we post something to the internet. If users are unable or unwilling to bring themselves to do this, it becomes easier to ridicule, offend or abuse others.

Understanding that such people are out there, even if we don’t see them, diminishes any intentions we might have to bully them. Digital citizenship asks us to protect and include others.

Permanent record

Another issue for students is what is said or posted online about them or by them. Some call it a digital footprint, but a new term is gaining acceptance: “digital tattoo.” A digital tattoo speaks more to the permanence, to the conscientious decision to share information and the difficulty of removing what has been said or posted.

One of the first steps in dealing with a digital tattoo is to search yourself. If you have not done it, or done it lately, it is important to do so.

Your tattoo is who you are—your personal brand—and if there is something negative out there, you need to address it. Even information that seems innocent may lead to problems in the future. Being a digital citizen means that you are aware of what is available about you in digital form and how it can affect you and others.

It is clear that technology use will increase within our schools. If you do not have a plan for how to teach digital citizenship, it will become a larger issue within your schools and district.

It is important for our students, and for all of us, to understand this world full of technology and how to work, play and interact within it.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “We teach the children so that it will not be necessary to teach the adults.” We need to start today to help our students navigate this digital future. DA

Mike Ribble is technology director of Manhattan-Ogden School District in Kansas. He is also an international author and speaker on digital citizenship.