Though for many years now, ‘digital citizenship’ has been an important topic of discussion among educators, the importance and relevance of this topic has gained momentum since the covid-19 pandemic struck and online learning became the norm of the day. Initially, safety, security, and legality (protecting one’s passwords, keeping one’s identity hidden, and citing references while using intellectual property) remained the focus areas of digital citizenship. At present the focus has shifted towards empowering students to use digital tools and platforms responsibly for learning enhancement and becoming future-ready.
Digital citizenship can also be thought of as a critical skill for today’s students who will develop into tomorrow’s leaders. This extends the responsibility of present educators beyond the classroom to a world within keyboards and codes, which involves teaching digital citizenship to students to enable them to navigate the digital spaces successfully and confidently. This will lead to the students being equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources to excel as life-long learners. Along with helping students to understand and achieve digital literacy, it also ensures, online safety, digital responsibility, digital health and wellness, and prevention of cyberbullying. Hence integrating digital citizenship into classrooms by educators has become vital. The key components of digital citizenship are further described below.
Information literacy: Easy availability of vast amount of information through Google, Wikipedia and other sources, pose a challenge to students in differentiating useful information from spam. By teaching digital literacy, educators can equip the students with the necessary skills and understanding to use the internet and technology effectively for their benefit. They should be taught how to use a proper search engine and reputed/appropriate sites for information and knowledge.
Online safety: Students need to be taught about online safety and to become confident in taking charge of their digital lives. Educators need to teach them to protect themselves and their personal identities by visiting appropriate websites, avoid posting personal information about themselves and others, and inform trusted adults if they feel something is wrong. This will decrease the likelihood of them becoming victims of potential threats and help them blossom into confident digital citizens.
Digital Responsibility: Educators need to incorporate curriculum that is specially designed to create awareness in students of how to deal with potential threats of piracy, hacking, viruses, and malwares, along with educating them about plagiarism and other inappropriate online conduct. Clear boundaries and consequences for inappropriate usage of technology and digital tools, should be set and enforced.
Digital Health and emotional Wellness: There is always the danger of students becoming addictive to technology which can be detrimental to their physical and mental health in the form of mental stress, eye problems, and ergonomic issues, to name a few. To protect the students from these issues and promote their wellness, teachers should incorporate creative strategies in teaching the students about the safe usage of technology, as well as about the inherent dangers and benefits of prolonged online engagement. Limiting online time and taking frequent breaks for stretching, eating and hydrating should be encouraged.
Prevention of Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying has become a major cause of concern for students and teachers and it can be prevented by educating the students about respectful online engagement. Incorporating lessons with guidelines regarding responsible digital communication, manners and etiquettes, setting clear rules and boundaries and reinforcing them, will enable students to interact respectfully with others. They should be encouraged to report any behaviour that makes them uncomfortable.
Teaching digital citizenship will basically involve the steps of defining, creating, and executing.
1) Defining: First, the elements of digital citizenship (for example, the themes listed above) to be incorporated into the curriculum needs to be defined.
2) Creating: Defining is to be followed by the construction of a creative and effective curriculum involving the themes.
3) Executing: Finally, the execution is done by integrating the principles of digital citizenship into the existing teaching models and strategies.
Some other issues including but not limited to effective passwords, e-mail spoofing, phishing, social media, literacy intelligence, social media, plagiarism, should be discussed with the students. Web content filtering and monitoring need to be implemented by the teachers. To help and support teachers to develop and create their own digital citizenship curriculum, there are several resources available online. Some examples are as follows -
• “Be Internet Awesome” by Google
• Microsoft Digital Literacy Curriculum
• Safe Online Surfing from the FBI
• Ignition, a Digital Literacy & Responsibility curriculum by Everfi
In conclusion, we should ask the critical question about how any new academic initiative helps students and learners. With the incorporation of digital citizenship in the curriculum, students become:
• Inclusive- Students become open to listening and recognizing multiple viewpoints and learn to be respectful and empathetic in their digital interactions.
• Alert- They become aware of online actions and their consequences along with knowing how to be safe and create safe spaces for others.
• Informed-Students develop the ability to evaluate the accuracy, perspective, and validity of the information available through digital media and social posts
• Engaged-They learn to use technology and digital tools for civic participation, problem-solving, and be a good support both in physical and online communities.
• Balanced- Students become capable of making informed decisions about prioritizing time and activities online and off to promote mental and physical health.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.