Digital citizenship isn’t about being active on the Internet — uploading your next Snapchat or updating your Facebook status. Digital citizenship means learning to protect yourself online and behaving in ways that keep your personal information secure, and educators can play a key role in teaching these skills. Some specific skills might include learning internet safety, protecting your privacy, and learning how to promote good social and digital footprints for success.
We hear about the idea of digital citizenship at our schools, but what is it really? Common Sense Education identifies digital citizenship as a way of “helping educators [to] teach safe, responsible, and effective technology use.” As a high school special education teacher, my job teaching digital citizenship has unique challenges because my students often need instruction fine-tuned to their level of understanding. It’s my goal to identify their strengths and weaknesses and guide them in a way that meets their individual needs.
Thanks to a U.S. Department of Education RTTT-D federal grant, all schools in my district have an initiative in place that allows for 1:1 Chromebook access for grades 6–12 — an amazing feat that has improved the likelihood of students having easy access to technology.
One of the challenges of teaching my students to be good digital citizens is their inevitable lack of proper access to technology-based learning tools — they don’t have the correct login for a particular program, a website is blocked or they’ve forgotten their password. I’ve become used to these roadblocks, and can help them navigate. Luckily, many of my students have smartphones, which helps us get around these barriers at the beginning of the year. Early on, I have them download apps to save their passwords, since memory and retaining information can be hard for those with processing disorders.
Last year, teaching students how to create a resume provided an important lesson on using the Internet safely. I had them log into the Chromebooks and develop resumes using an online program, but when I asked my students to leave personal information blank and enter it in a Word or Google Doc later when it was secure, they didn’t understand why. I had to explain that entering personal information online isn’t always the safest thing, especially if you aren’t sure of the security of the website. Some possible options for password managers can be found here.