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Proactive not protective! Digital citizenship should empower students

By Sarah Stoeckl
March 29, 2017
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Digital citizenship is one of the hottest topics in education today. As technology has proliferated in schools and beyond, questions about the correct ways to use that technology have likewise cropped up like dandelions. Frequently, these questions arise in response to perceived dangers or misbehaviors — identity theft, adult predators, cyberbullying, illegal actions — and so the education around digital citizenship often appears like a list of rules and regulations: Shut it down. Lock it up. Don’t do that. Be afraid.

The 2016 ISTE Standards for Students represent a shift in this perspective, a drive to reformulate our approach to digital citizenship in education. With the standards’ overarching focus on learner empowerment, students are expected to thoughtfully lead their own learning, and educators are thus pushed to support and facilitate them in this goal. This empowered approach applies to digital citizenship as well.

The Digital Citizen standard brings this empowerment to how students interact online. First off, it calls for students to drive their digital citizenship as they “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.” The statement highlights not only the responsibilities of interactions online but also the rights that students have as global and national citizens, the opportunities that the internet facilitates, and students’ ability to model safe, legal and ethical behaviors for others. From the get-go, the focus is on complexity and proactive behavior, rather than fears and regulations.

Here are a few ways we might see this shift in practice:

  • Teach students about intellectual property and the legal and ethical ramifications of misusing others’ work while simultaneously teaching Creative Commons and proper citation guidelines and tools. Empower students to share and protect their own work when, where and to what extent they choose.

  • Help students collaboratively learn about and discuss online tracking of personal data, the limitations of privacy settings on digital products and services, and the way that algorithms curate information for users based on past behaviors. They then reflect individually and make changes they feel comfortable with to their privacy settings and online behavior.

  • Encourage students to interact on the internet with an eye to its potential power in terms of self-representation, collaboration with others around the world, entrepreneurialism, activism and engagement, and creativity and sharing.  

The best way to meet this vision for dynamic, ethical and responsible behavior online is by knitting digital citizenship instruction throughout the curriculum and student learning activities. It also comes when educators recognize openings in the course of learning to call out knowledge, pitfalls and opportunities related to digital activity. By approaching digital citizenship more holistically and as a series of learner-driven activities and mindsets, we foster engaged citizens — whenever and wherever our students interact.

Sarah Stoeckl, Ph.D., is a senior project manager in ISTE's standards department. Her work focuses on the refresh of the ISTE Standards and implementation of the standards in education.

Learn more about the new ISTE Standards for Students, and purchase the ebook to start embedding the standards in your classroom or school today.

Start with the empowered learner course to bring the ISTE Standards to life through online PD.