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Teaching and Modeling Good Digital Citizenship

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Flickr: Zawezome

By Jennifer Roland

Teens are savvier than we might give them credit for when it comes to knowing their privacy boundaries on social networking sites. According to a recent Pew Internet study, 62% of teens surveyed said their posts can only be seen by friends, and 19% said that their profile is "partially private so that friends of friends or their networks can see some version of their profile."

Still, digital citizenship entails more than just protecting oneself. Incidents of cyberbullying and harassment continue to occur regularly, and some states are taking drastic measures to stop kids from harmful behavior like sexting -- in South Carolina, kids age 12 to 17 who "transmit sexually explicit photos" may be fined $100 if a bill is passed.

Somewhere between kids' intuitive social savvy and their online behavior lies an opportunity for both parents and educators to teach responsible digital citizenship, and there are plenty of organizations dedicated to this task alone. Define the Line, a project of McGill University in Canada, was recently awarded a digital citizenship grant by Facebook to help further its work in creating materials to open dialogue about finding the line where joking crosses into negative or criminal behavior. The site includes videos and scenarios designed to enhance discussion of real-world digital topics.

Common Sense Media recently launched a free digital citizenship curriculum categorized by age. The curriculum includes both paper-based and digital activities and teaches online safety and Internet research skills in combination with ethics. CyberWise offers resources to help adults be more tech savvy so they can understand the power of the tools their kids are using and do a better job of helping their kids make smart choices online. And the Department of Education's Netcetera handbook is another resource for parents that schools distribute.



Educators have lots of options in modeling good digital citizenship with projects they can embark upon with students. Organizations like iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) are dedicated to connecting teachers and students across the globe to collaborate on educational projects. More than 2 million students and 40,000 educators are involved in iEARN projects. And teachers are taking on global projects on their own, too. Technology specialist Shannon McClintock Miller connects her students with classrooms in distant locations via Skype and even put on a co-production of Romeo and Juliet with students from other classes. (Take a look at her workshop at the recent Florida Educational Technology Conference and check out the slides and videos.)

Miller’s school also participates in She’s the First, a non-profit dedicated to helping girls in developing countries become better educated. Students raised funds to send a girl named Neema in Tanzania to school, and interacted with her through videos and the Kisa Project Web site. Students spoke at assemblies, held bake sales, and worked with the community to raise more than $1,000 so far to support the organization and to send Neema to school.

There are also countless examples of students embarking on their own digital projects, kids like Emily from Kansas, a fourth-grader who produces an educational blog called Sciencegirlem and gets feedback from other kids and adults all over the world.