Teaching with technology can be extremely motivating and empowering for both teachers and students. But, as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As a teacher, it’s important that you not only develop your students’ technical skills like how to create a presentation, video, or blog, but also make sure they know how to be good digital citizens, be safe, and be critical thinkers online. Your classroom of digital natives may know how to use their cell phones to watch videos, post to Instagram, and text their friends, but don’t assume they know how to protect their privacy, communicate appropriately in different online situations, choose and use the best apps to demonstrate their learning, or evaluate if what they read or watch on the Internet is accurate and reliable.
Just like you build on prior knowledge when teaching Science or English Language Arts, you can build on the technology and citizenship skills your students already have. It’s an ongoing process with many teachable moments you can take advantage of.
5 Tips for Teaching Digital Skills and Citizenship
1. Ask your students what they know. At the beginning of the year, have your students complete a quick KWL chart as a whole class or a take a brief online survey so you can get a sense of what they know when it comes to digital literacy and digital citizenship. That data will give you invaluable information on what you need to teach them.
2. Scaffold learning. If they already know how to use Google docs, you may only need to provide them with an online video tutorial to refresh their skills. If they’ve never used a messaging app or blog, focus on what they are posting as well as how to create the post. Show them sample posts and discuss various scenarios. When is it okay to comment or post using common texting vocabulary and emojis? When should they use full sentences that show good grammar and punctuation skills? What should the tone of their comments and posts be? What should they do if they feel uncomfortable about someone’s post or comment? How much about themselves is it safe to share online?
3. Model digital skills and practice, practice, practice. Taking the time to model and practice digital citizenship and safety skills will make integrating technology a more positive and productive experience for everyone. Letting your students practice sharing posts while collaborating on projects with their classmates will help them hone their communication skills before letting them loose on the Internet. The more you model and build on these concepts in every subject you teach, the more it will become second nature to your students.
4. Make connections between your students’ real and digital lives. For the most part, your students don’t distinguish between their real and digital lives. That’s a good thing, because it allows you to take advantage of teachable moments throughout the year to reinforce the connections between what happens online to what happens offline. Treating others with respect and kindness at school and at home definitely relates to being a good digital citizen while on the Internet. The same is true for protecting their privacy and learning to be safe in both online and offline situations.
5. Cultivate critical thinking and empathy. Because the Internet makes it easy for your students to find and share information, they need to be able to sift through the information with a critical eye. How can they discern if the information is true or “fake?” Can the information be verified through other sources? As a participant on the Internet, what are their responsibilities when they post online? How does what they share affect others? In both their digital and real lives, equipping students to become successful, productive citizens who think critically and demonstrate empathy for others is a profound accomplishment – and well worth the time spent!