This is part one of a three-part series focussing on the nine elements of digital citizenship found in the book Digital Citizenship in Schools, 2nd Ed.
When discussing the topic of digital citizenship or digital health, or whatever it may be called in your school or district, there are certain universal themes that seem to be at issue. The areas of cyber-bullying, viewing inappropriate content and plagiarism are often topics of concern that are discussed among parents and educators. In the first article of this series the general topic of digital citizenship was defined. In these next three articles the focus will be more specifically on the ideas of REP (Respect-Educate-Protect) and the topics that fall within these three categories.
Respect Yourself / Respect Others
The concept of respect has changed over the past 40 years. In the 1960s, children were brought up to listen to and follow the directions of their elders and of those in authority without question. While many homes still focus on this goal, society tends to tell the young that respect is something to be earned and not freely given. Even respect for oneself has changed as young boys and girls are being shown on TV and online what is acceptable. If these children do not measure up, then something is wrong with them. This is especially true with physical attributes that if they do not meet the social norms, then they should be ashamed and if they do they should share it with everyone.
Digital technologies are placing a spotlight on these issues and it provides a forum for youth to discuss them. For some, these can a positive, affirming situation and for others it can be difficult and hurtful. It is easy not to put a face to someone communicating via Facebook, Twitter or a text. Too often youth forget that there are others that are out there and that their words can cause harm that some students cannot recover from.
The first of these topics that fit within respect is Digital Etiquette. We define Digital Etiquette as those electronic standards of conduct or procedure. In the past, etiquette was defined by the societal group that people belonged to. It usually had a basis in religion or norms of the community that a person lived. Technology has changed some of these rules, or creates situations in which parents, families and communities are unprepared to address. Most people 20 years ago could not have imagined a world where vast information could be carried around with them. Etiquette helps children to understand their place in the world and how they should interact with others. The process of teaching etiquette needs to begin young so that new users of technology understand the ‘rules of society’. But what are these rules? Is it okay to have a mobile phone conversation in a crowded bus, subway or elevator? Should intimate information be shared out on social media? Does everyone need to be connected 24/7? These are the questions that need to be addressed and shared with this and the next generation. Whatever these norms will be, it needs to be remembered that etiquette reminds us that other people are around us when we use technology.
The next area within respect is that of Digital Access. Digital Access is defined as the full electronic participation in society. Whether someone is in a big city or small town, there will be those who have different experiences with technology. There are those either by social and/or economic location or handicap who will not be able to have the same opportunities as those without these differences. For some, digital technologies provide users with more fulfillment than without. For example, tablet technologies have provided students without fine motor skills or language abilities to be able to work as well as have a voice. For those that live far from large cities it can bring options to them that would not have been there before. With all these new opportunities it must be remembered that there may be some that cannot access the technologies and how they may need assistance from others. In a time of discussion of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) within education, it needs to be remembered that there may be some who do not have these options. Education, as well as other institutions, needs to remember with forms and other official documents that are needed for students or others, some may not have this access in their homes. All users should remember that not everyone has the same experience with technology.
The last area within respect is that of Digital Law. Digital Law is the electronic responsibility for actions and deeds. When the internet first became accessible to large groups, the regulation of how users acted was determined by that online group. Often there were few written rules but if someone broke the norms of that site it was the other users that determined the punishment of that user. This idea of netiquette has grown beyond self-regulation as issues have become much more serious. Technology has changed and what is said or done online may have consequences to a larger group of users. As these boundaries between someone’s online life and real life have become blurred, governmental and other agencies have begun to step in and regulate how people can act as digital citizens. If members of these online communities wish to maintain some control of these spaces then they need to once again regulate how they and others around them act online. Too often though there will be a small percentage that feels that others cannot tell them what to do if they have that freedom. It needs to begin early for users to understand that violating online regulations can have very real consequences.
These three elements combined with the six that will follow have many facets that need to be addressed. All the elements have both positive as well as negative issues that help to define them. The nine elements are not written to be a list of what someone can or cannot do when using digital technologies. These elements are written to provide a framework with which to have a discussion about the issues and how users can begin to address them. In addition, there are also two sides to each of the overarching ideas of Respect, Educate and Protect. One is focussing on the actions of the individual as well as those they interact with. Respect must be for ones’ self as well as for others. Respect often must be earned but it also needs to be freely provided to others as well when acting correctly as a digital citizen.
Another theme that flows between all the nine elements and their three main themes is an idea often associated with those in the medical profession, in Latin it is Primum Non Nocere or Do No Harm. This directs digital citizens to use the capabilities of technology but always remember to do such in a way that does not hurt you or those that you come in contact with. Children as well as all users need to learn the lesson of thinking before acting when using a technology. Too often the speed at which users can click Send is the difference between a good experience and a bad one. If users would stop and recognize, before they send a hateful message, photo or scathing reply, what the recourse may be then perhaps some would just not perform these actions.
The concepts in this article are just a starting point for any person or group wanting to become more knowledgeable about digital citizenship. In the next two articles more will be discussed about the main tenants of being a digital citizen as well as covering the basic ideas of the other six elements. Once a reader has read and understood these ideas they can take them to others and begin to openly discuss what it means to be a digital citizen. All these topics and additional information can be found in the text of Digital Citizenship in Schools, 2nd Edition as well as at http://www.digitalcitizenship.net.
Dr. Mike Ribble is a lifelong educator. He began his career as a science educator at the college level. He then transitioned into a leadership role as an assistant principal. Dr. Ribble has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the university level. Currently, he works as the director of technology for a school district in the United States. Dr. Ribble has spoken on the topic of digital citizenship to both parents as well as teachers in the United States and internationally. His book Digital Citizenship in Schools was the product of his doctoral dissertation and has just been released in its second edition. He also has a parent book on digital citizenship titled Raising a Digital Child.
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