Help for teaching digital citizenship

By Anne Collier

“The Internet is where children are growing up,” the New York Times reports, citing Kaiser Family Foundation research suggesting that they’re online or interacting with digital media just about every hour they’re not asleep or in school. So it follows that they really need to learn what it means to be good people online as well as in real life.

Or good digital citizens. More and more parents and educators are asking how we teach digital citizenship, and San Francisco-based media-education nonprofit Common Sense Media has been working on an answer to exactly that question. Its solution is an important step forward: a digital literacy and citizenship curriculum for students in grades 5-8, which will be available for free to all schools next fall. It has already been tested in San Francisco, Omaha, and New York, and “Denver, the District of Columbia, Florida, Los Angeles, Maine and Virginia are considering it,” according to the Times. The curriculum’s based on the work of the Harvard School of Education’s GoodPlay Project on digital ethics and, the Times reports, covers five areas: “identity (how do you present yourself online?); privacy (the world can see everything you write); ownership (plagiarism, reproducing creative work); credibility (legitimate sources of information); and community (interacting with others).” Anyone can get a preview of the privacy section in the Common Sense site now and here’s an audio interview on the curriculum with Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer by ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid at CNET.

As for what we teach at home, definitely check out the curriculum for family discussions (and to know what schools will be teaching our kids, hopefully). But also keep it really simple. One basic pointer can go a long way, I think: What we have always taught and modeled for our children – things like civility, respect for self and others, and always treating people the way we want to be treated – now goes for the online part of their our lives too. Just be very clear that there’s no distinction between online and offline behavior – no hiding behind real or perceived online anonymity or disinhibition! Given that the average young person spends more than 7.5 hours a day socializing in as well as consuming digital media (see this), this is how our parenting embraces the whole child now, don’t you think? Feel free to email me your thoughts via anne[at] – or post here in the ConnectSafely forum.

Related links

* How digital citizenship can be protective: on the “guild effect” and increasing everybody’s investment in the wellbeing of the community and fellow members, as well as themselves
* Citizenship is a verb!: There are all kinds of communities, online and offline. A classroom is a community, so is a wiki, a wrestling team, a Google doc, a social network, and a family. You can’t be a citizen without a chance to practice citizenship in the community where you’re supposed to be a citizen, I blogged after talking with Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation Yes.
* “From users to citizens: How to make digital citizenship relevant” and an afterthought on that
* “A definition of digital literacy & citizenship” (I tried to make it simple by fitting it into one sentence, but is it still to complex? Pls comment!)
* Educator Anne Bubnic’s amazing collection of links to resources on digital citizenship

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