School Beat: Digital Citizens to Digital Leaders

By Maggie Thelen, Director of Instructional Technology

How can we teach students to use technology responsibly and respectfully when devices, apps and websites are constantly changing? This is a question that parents and schools think about and try to develop solutions to keep our students safe and be productive digital citizens in an online environment.

It is critically important to teach students how to be good digital citizens and leaders if we are putting technology in their hands or giving them access to technology. Conversations regarding appropriate use of technology and building a positive digital footprint/tattoo are the joint responsibility of the home and school.

Living in an age of technology leads us to have conversations with our students on a regular basis and to also live in the digital world ourselves so we are aware of what our students are facing. It is important to model appropriate use of technology and interaction with others online. Students are being raised in a digital world, but they still need guidance and support about how to navigate the online space as a good digital citizen.

Young people learn by making mistakes; we all do. The difference today is that mistakes can be more challenging and have a broader scope if it happens online. Students are going to make mistakes and it is up to adults that interact with them to instill solid habits and skills to help them learn from their mistakes and not amplify them. We will never be able to provide 100% clear guidelines since technology is changing so quickly, but we can set the tone and continuously guide students to make appropriate decisions both online and in day to day interactions with others.

Cyberbullying, plagiarism and negative digital footprints/tattoos can arise when students are not treating the internet or their personal digital presence with respect. A large part of teaching students to be good digital citizens and appropriate digital leaders is in stressing the importance of empathy. If students understand that their actions have meaning and understand the words that they use impact others, then they can learn to be more empathetic toward others and thus reduce incidences of cyberbullying and inappropriate posting and comments. It is difficult to recognize other people’s emotions with online media so building empathy for others is a critical component for students to develop.

If we empower students to consume, create and share online, then we also must teach them to be responsible and the power of connectively to others. Conversations and teachable moments both at home and at school will teach our students to be empathic users of online resources, assist them with building appropriate skills and relationships online, and ensure that they can problem solve to navigate the ever-changing digital world in which we live.