Teach, Don’t Preach Digital Citizenship

 (Taken from here)

I was not alone last week in making a deliberate effort to emphasize the positive impact of social media. Thang Hoang Nam Le also referenced the potential for social media to support relief efforts for natural disasters, like the recent Hurricane Harvey. Tayler Cameron (aka, Debbie Downer 😊) likewise elaborated on the role social media plays in responding to natural disasters, as well as it’s impact with public health. I don’t think there is any argument that online social activism can have very real, meaningful impact on our lives.

This deliberate acknowledgement of the positive is, I believe, a necessary part of a process where I am realigning myself to view social media realistically. Oh yes, it is very possible to have positive, productive conversations online. There is ample evidence of students having positive debate online that has influenced their community or society, like this.

But this , on the other hand, this also possible:

We live in a time where individuals in prominent positions of leadership and prestige are glorifying the very behaviour (cyberbullying, on-line harassment) that we are trying to warn our children away from. That grown adults are doing this underscores the fact that simply telling kids what not to do will not be enough. Perhaps not effective at all.

(Taken from here)

And so here we are.  What is my role, as an educator, in modeling active citizenship? Inevitably, for me, this turns back to promoting positive on-line behaviour. While I consider myself to be an active citizen in more traditional ways, I am admittedly not as engaged digitally. I read news and use various on-line media, but I do not output very much. But this does not preclude me from being a role model, or good teacher, for my students as they explore creating their digital identities and interacting through social media. I am an educator that wants my students to be able to tap the power of social media in a socially responsible way.

Our readings this week highlight a proposition to move away from simply telling kids what not to do, to teaching responsible digital citizenship. Katia Hildebrandtfor example, states: “the importance of moving from a fear- and avoidance-based model to one that emphasizes the actions that a responsible digital citizen should take.” She goes on to advocate for correlating the traits of digital citizenship to those associated with traditional citizenship. This is a very helpful way for me to think about my role fostering students growth in their use of social media.

Teach, Don’t Preach

As a Learning Resource Teacher, I know that the golden rule in writing a social story is to avoid stating negatives. There’s no point. Instead, focus is on the desired, positive behaviour that we would like the student to be exhibiting. For a negative behaviour like cyberbullying, rather than simply telling kids not to do it, I need to be encouraging the alternative, positive behaviour.

In their article, Defining and measuring youth digital citizenship, Lisa Jones and Kimberly Mitchell offer me a compelling possibility for how to approach digital citizenship at school. Clearly, they were writing with teachers in mind as they outline a specific vision with examples for how to implement in a classroom.They emphasize two key areas of focus for the teaching of digital citizenship:

(1) practice respectful and tolerant behaviors toward others and (2) increase civic engagement activities.

How can I do this? The authors discuss how I, as a teacher, can have students practice taking part in civil discussions on-line, in their own social networks as well as anonymously in more open discussion communities. We can also specifically practice monitoring our tone and language in responding to somebody we disagree with. We can also have a discussion on what respect and supportive behaviour on-line can look like, and practice being supportive to somebody showcasing talents on-line.

To me, it’s becoming pretty clear that not being a whole-hearted participant of social media will not stop me from being knowledgeable enough to be a good role model for my students in developing into engaged citizens, whether that be through more traditional, face to face outlets, or through digital ones.

Thanks for reading!


on “Teach, Don’t Preach Digital Citizenship
3 Comments on “Teach, Don’t Preach Digital Citizenship
  1. I enjoy reading how you model a positive/active citizenship to your students through online activities. The world needs more teachers like you 😀

  2. This is a thought provoking post. I am pleased to hear that my children will enter into primary school with the possibility of having a teacher with the same mindset as you – show what to do versus telling them what NOT to do. As a parent of very young children I have quickly learned that simply telling them not to hit their sibling, not to throw shoes, etc isn’t effective. They probably wonder, “Then what should I do?” Although I am not always perfect at teaching positive responses, it makes sense that this is one way in which responsible, engaged citizens come to be.

    As an adult educator, I believe my responsibility is also to guide students in identifying issues of importance that they can champion. This may start with problematizing situations or digging into the negative aspects of issues, but ultimately ends with making a positive impact – big or small. Thanks again for your insight!

  3. 100% agree that the best approach is to model what we expect from our students. It’s not possible to use scare tactics with them, kids are not fearful of social media- that fear rests with parents and educators.

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