When educators talk to students about digital citizenship, they often come from the standpoint of protection. The discussion centers on how to stay safe and protect their online identities.
But it's time to move digital citizenship to the activism stage. "This is the idea that we can use digital tools to improve the world around us to support causes, empower others or create better environments," explains Alec Couros, professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada.
But how do we get students to lead and become empowered digital citizens? It all starts with a shift in mindset.
Getting there requires buy-in from all stakeholders — teachers, administrators, staff and students. That's why Couros encourages these groups to learn together. He's seen this in action at the day-long online symposium he created for 9,000 students and teachers across Saskatchewan.
The symposium provided teachers with basic content and curricular support, and allowed students to connect with peers, learn from online scenarios, and eventually create social activism campaigns and codes of conduct.
Here are three activities Couros uses to drive home the importance of digital citizenship.
This activity works well with students in the middle grades and higher. Students are assigned to “cybersleuth” a well-known person who has an online identity. Students search for information on the web and then analyze how the details they share about themselves shape their image. Older students can choose to sleuth each other, while teachers might search for a well-known figure in education to see what kind of sharing they might want to be doing online.
Impact: By asking students to reflect on the way we use bits of online information to generate an opinion of another person, teachers can help students recognize what their own digital footprints say about them.
2. Digital detectives
In this activity, students must determine whether particular websites or other sources of online information are accurate. Students act as detectives to identify the signs of a reliable (or unreliable) online resource to construct their “detective kit” of digital literacy skills that will help them to be critical online readers. This exercise can be adapted for various grade levels.
Impact: Misinformation spreads rapidly on the web, and the ability to find and identify accurate information online is a necessary digital age skill. This exercise allows students to use real-life examples to practice being critical readers.
3. Social activism projects
This multi-part workshop (co-developed with Couros’ colleague Katia Hildebrandt) takes students through the process of developing an online social activism project. Students identify social issues in their communities, evaluate examples of social action campaigns to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and develop their social action project’s timeline, platform and other information.
Impact: There are many examples of successful student-led social action campaigns and this activity helps students develop their own. The overall impact of such campaigns can be hard to gauge, but the use of social media allows students an authentic audience and increases engagement with young audiences.