Walk into any classroom today and it is common to see students creating a project on a shared document, interacting with their teacher and peers through a learning management system, speaking with another class through videoconferencing, or blogging about a classroom activity or project. Along with this increased technology use, students are interacting more and more with their peers, both inside and outside of their own classroom. With this increased interaction among students and others online, it is vital that students are taught about the importance of—and expectations around—digital citizenship.
One of the key components to digital citizenship is maintaining privacy and safeguarding personal information. When my students first began using Kidblog, we had a conversation about not putting any information in their blog posts that could be used to identify them or tell where they lived. With Kidblog, students can use their full names, just their first names, or teachers can create usernames for the students. The teacher can set the privacy settings to limit who can view the blog posts: whether posts can be published publicly or only seen by classmates or classroom connections. It is important for students to feel open enough to share about their interests and activities, but also to be aware that sharing too personal, or too much, information may not be safe.
Another aspect of digital citizenship is teaching students to properly cite and respect property rights of images they may use on their blog. Many students simply do an internet search for a picture that corresponds with their blog topic, and add it to their post. Using multimedia sources and pictures in student blogging is a great opportunity to teach students about copyright and the importance of citing others’ work or images that they may be using. When teaching students how to search online for images, educators should include in their lesson how to search images that are labeled for reuse. This is a great way to tie in the concept of intellectual property and how ideas and images and other creations online often still belong to the person that created them.
During the actual writing of blog posts, it is important to stress to students the use of proper grammar, complete sentences, capitalization, and punctuation. For some students, writing online can often be confused with abbreviated typing or “text talk.” It’s essential that educators are clear with students that when writing their blogs or making comments, the components of excellent writing still apply.
One of the best aspects of using Kidblog is the ability to connect with other classes around the world and read and make comments on other students’ blog posts. Teaching students proper ways to interact with other students online and ‘netiquette’ are critical to their success as bloggers and digital citizens. I teach my students that when they comment on another student’s post, it should be as if the other student is present in our classroom. Too often, for both children and adults, it is far too easy to be unnecessarily critical and harsh with semi-anonymity online than it would be in a face-to-face encounter. When making comments, students should first look for a commonality with which they can make a connection with the other person. If there is something written in the post that they disagree with, then it is okay for the student to voice his or her opinion, as long as the student does so in a respectful manner and recognizes that their opinion may come as a result of a different perspective. With class connections from different countries, it is all the more important to be sensitive with different cultural views and customs that may be different than what your students are accustomed. Those differences, however, can often be a powerful springboard into a deeper conversation about diversity and cultures, and may even provide an opportunity to connect live with that class through videoconferencing.
Teaching digital citizenship is a crucial part of education. If students are able to communicate appropriately with others online, then they will be more successful as they continue on through school and in life. As technology plays larger roles in society and in education and as that technology shrinks the world and allows greater access to more people, digital citizenship will continue to become more of a necessity in education.