Digital Citizenship for Students & Age-Appropriate Ways to Teach It

Learn more about digital citizenship for students
Contributed By

Elizabeth Trach

Professional Writer and Blogger

Digital Citizenship for Students & Age-Appropriate Ways to Teach It

Posted in Evolving Ed | November 09, 2018

Bringing technology into the classroom is, for the most part, a good thing. Using the internet to connect with learners around the world—not to mention the ones sitting right there in the room—can boost engagement and make your job as an instructor a little easier.

But taking your students online can also feel a little bit like sending them off on a trek through the Wild West. There are plenty of snakes in the grass, and the rules for conduct there aren't as clear as they are back in your civilized classroom community. When so many adults aren't on their best behavior online, how can you prepare your students to thrive?

Part of teaching these days requires lessons in digital citizenship for students. No matter what age group or subject you teach, learning how to behave appropriately online and to protect yourself from harm are major life skills in our modern world, and these lessons should be part of every instructor's work to give learners the tools they need to succeed.

Not sure where to start? You don't necessarily need a dedicated curriculum on digital citizenship. Instead, you can incorporate lessons about online safety and good digital behavior as part of any unit you teach with technology.

Digital Citizenship for Students in Elementary School

As soon as you take your students online, it's time to start teaching digital citizenship. For kids in grades K-4, it's important to focus on the basics of safety early and often.

Stranger Danger

Just like in real life, your students shouldn't chat with anyone they don't know online. Now's the time to lay some important ground rules, including the following:

  • Don't talk (or chat) with anyone you don't know.
  • Don't give out personal information online, including your name, phone number, address or the name of your school or teacher.
  • Don't give your passwords to anyone but parents and teachers.

These basics are good rules for the road for students of all ages, so keep reiterating them as you explore the internet together.

Secret Screen Names

It's easy for younger students to forget that their screen name can accidentally give away their real name to strangers. If your school doesn't already have a screen name convention—for example, a combination of name initials and room numbers—make coming up with a "secret" name fun. You can turn this into a short project that lets your younger students explore their online superhero alter-egos to come up with a special name they love while keeping their personal information secure.

Age-Appropriate Sites

Instead of turning young students loose on Amazon to leave book reviews or YouTube to post video projects to the word at large, stick to kid-friendly sites designed for educational purposes to encourage interaction. This will keep your students' work relatively private while allowing you the opportunity to teach them to comment on other's work appropriately, using the same polite language they'd use in person.

Digital Citizenship for Middle School Students

By the time students are in grades 5-8, they will probably have racked up hundred of hours on experience online—and not all of it in the classroom. By this age students are most likely exploring social media and interacting with friends online, so it's the perfect time to ramp up your exploration of what it means to be a good digital citizen.

Understanding Cyberbullying

As students begin to interact in chat rooms and on social media, cyberbullying should be a major topic of discussion in your classroom. Remind students that if something is too mean to say in person, it's too mean to say online. Remind students that online bullying is still real, so they should stop what they are doing and get an adult if they are uncomfortable about anything they see online. Teaching middle schoolers to be upstanders instead of bystanders is just as important for online behavior as it is on school grounds.  

Respecting Privacy

Middle schoolers have plenty of secrets, and spilling someone else's beans causes just as much drama online as it does in the cafeteria. Discuss the importance of online privacy for themselves and others. By middle school, it's time to expand on the lessons about not sharing personal information with strangers to dive into when and what is okay to share—including photos.

Assessing Validity

As students begin to use online searches for research, be sure to discuss how to tell if a source is biased or otherwise inappropriate. Middle schoolers will love the CRAP test for its name alone, but it's a highly useful way to evaluate sources—a major life skill in the age of fake news. You may also wish to help students steer clear of websites with racist or sexist messages.

Digital Citizenship for High School Students

By high school, your students are probably using the internet in all the ways adults do, so their problems are likely to be the same ones you face. Help your students navigate away from drama and keep their information secure.

Recognizing Scams and Risky Relationships

By the time they're in high school, many students feel confident that they know how to interact online, and they may let their guard down about the "stranger danger" lessons of the past. Still, teens are at risk for giving away personal information and being led into inappropriate online relationships with scammers or other unsavory adults. Online "romances" are particularly risky, so stay open for dialogue about these issues.

Monitoring Your Digital Footprint

As students begin to think about applying to college, it's the perfect time to remind them that the internet is forever. As more admissions offices check into prospective students' social media accounts, it's more important than ever that your students carefully curate their online image. Encourage your students to check their privacy settings, remove unflattering or inappropriate photos, and think carefully about what they post before they hit that "send" button.

Making Good Digital Citizenship the Default

The focus of digital citizenship for students is twofold: You want to both protect kids from online dangers and promote good digital behavior to facilitate online learning and interaction. Teaching digital citizenship is a lot like teaching good manners. It's not a once-and-done lesson, but rather a life skill that you teach across grades. Keep it age appropriate and circle back frequently, and your students will internalize the message over time.

How have you incorporated digital citizenship for students into your classroom? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology

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