“... Young people as a whole have enthusiastically integrated a variety of networked media into their daily lives, and can text, upload photos and blog with relative ease. However, using media effortlessly isn’t necessarily the same thing as using it well. Young people are mistakenly considered experts in digital technologies because they’re so highly connected, but they are still lacking many essential digital literacy skills.” Classrooms are now filled with students that, from a generational standpoint, are coined, digital natives; born into the age of digital technology and familiar with computers and the internet from an early age. Does an increase in digital experiences, however, directly translate to a strong understanding of digital literacy and citizenship? Unfortunately, many teachers are assuming yes.
Internet access has increased exponentially over the past decade and statistics are reporting that, within Canada, only 7% of students have no form of internet access while at home; 6% find access through a library or other community center and 1% only have access while attending school. With such high frequency of internet availability students are able to spend increasing amounts of time online with Canadians logging an average of 4 hours 53 minutes of internet use each day, with up to 1 hour 51 minutes of this being through a mobile device. With increased availability, however, comes increased challenges with 37% of students reporting that they have had something mean or cruel done to them online that has made them feel badly about themselves. Furthermore, 73% of students admit to using the internet to commit at least one act of academic dishonesty at the high school level. If the prevalence of digital experiences is a vast as the statistics imply, then why are students lacking in the areas of digital citizenship and literacy? I argue that it is the responsibility of the classroom teacher to incorporate digital citizenship and literacy outcomes into their curriculums at all grade levels. To support this study I will identify four critical spheres of understanding that I believe need to be implemented by classroom teachers at all grade levels and subject-areas.
Many hours of professional development are spent on strategies and programs designed to help educators incorporate technology into curriculum outcomes; even more time is spent discussing and installing various types of hardware and software into schools. While the actual technology and appropriate professional development for teachers are incredibly important as we move forward with 21st century education, I believe that there are four critical spheres of digital understanding that our education system is failing to address appropriately: the creation and management of an online identity, netiquette, how to assess the quality and authenticity of online information, and referencing and digital copyright laws.
The first of these areas, the creation and management of an online identity, is essential for helping students understand that their online time is not anonymous and that the information stakeholders can find about them online can help determine future job offers, program acceptances, scholarship offers, sports drafts, and etcetera. The term digital footprint refers to the traces or footprints one leaves online through active actions (social media profiles, blogs, comments) and passive actions (cookies stored by web browsers, technology use statistics). Students should be familiar with the term digital footprint and aware of their own unique digital footprint from an early age. As students reach an age where they are participating in social media they need to be taught the importance of appropriate usernames, an identity required for everything from email and Facebook to Instagram, Kik, and Snapchat. Not only should students be taught how to create an appropriate username that suitably represents them but they should also be aware of how using the same username across multiple platforms assists them in creating a stronger, more tailored online identity. It is important to note, however, that utilizing the same username is not the same as incorporating the same password for multiple platforms. A major component of ones online identity has to do with online privacy and how to effectively navigate and customize the privacy settings for various programs. Students need to be taught how to access a program’s privacy settings, on both computer and mobile interfaces, and how to customize them to appropriately meet the needs of the program’s purpose. For example, a student may host a public blog to showcase their personal writing pieces but have a private Instagram profile where they share personal photos with close friends. By learning how to create and manage their own online identity, students are forced to become more cognizant of what they are posting online and can help prevent embarrassment and disappointment as they mature.
The second sphere focuses on netiquette, the term used to refer to appropriate etiquette for online and digital platforms. Educators, parents, and law-enforcement officials, have all spent time discussing and/or addressing issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, and online defamation, which all stem directly from lack of netiquette. Virginia Shea, author of “Netiquette”, identifies as many as ten online netiquette rules that should be adhered to by any person who is using online platforms of any design. Of the ten, I believe a minimum of four should be taught by educators to students beginning in their elementary years;
1. Remember that the person on the receiving end of an
interaction is another human and that all real-life regulations
and courtesies apply.
2. There is a time and place for different interactions; what
works in a private text to a friend does not always work in an
email to a relative.
3. Everything you write/post/share should be a positive
representation of yourself.
4. Respect the privacy of others and think before you
forward/screenshot/tag/share information that is not yours to share.
These are skills that can be incorporated at the elementary level by having students email newsletters home to relatives, interact with their peers through an online classroom community, create digital portfolios, or connect with an online pen-pal from another area of the school or world. As students mature they can transfer their netiquette skills to their personal social media interactions, email correspondences, and online activities.
The third of these areas, assessing the quality and authenticity of online information, is not only an area of concern for educators, but for students as well. In fact, 35% of students identify that they wish their school would teach them how to search for information online and an additional 51% wish they knew how to tell if the information they found was factual and appropriate. Of the four spheres, assessing the quality and authenticity of online information is the most closely related to pre-existing curriculum outcomes as educators ask students to find subject-specific information for every class offered, yet this is still an area of concern for many students. Edutopia column author, Julie Coiro, identifies four dimensions in which students need to focus on when presented with online information. In order to effectively critique information from online sources students first need to be able to assess the relevance of a particular piece in relation to their purpose. Students should then be comfortable cross-checking information with additional websites and primary sources to evaluate if the information they have found is factual. Lastly, students should learn how to determine what personal bias the author may possess and how reliable they might be in relation to the context in which the information is found. While 45% of students identify that they do learn this information from their teachers, the remaining majority of 55% needs to be addressed. By introducing these skills at an early age and solidifying them as students progress through high school, educators are assisting students in thinking critically about information presented to them.
The fourth and last sphere, referencing and digital copyright laws, is essential for ensuring students are giving credit where credit is due and preventing copyright infringements that are commonly occurring by accident. The assumption is that if it is found online it is free for the taking, and this misconception is held for everything from intellectual property and images to video and music files. Students are regularly posting material for educational and personal uses that includes information and various forms of media that were found online. Within the school, educators not only have to teach students how to understand digital copyright legislations and how to reference appropriately, but they also need to model it themselves within their classrooms. Teachers are commonly finding information, videos, images, and activities online for their students and, while educational copyright does have some differences, students do not fall under this umbrella once they leave the classroom. It is imperative that students see educators modeling the appropriate use of references in their work as it will help solidify this skill for students. By educating students on the legality of digital copyright and how to reference work in multiple contexts there is a decreased chance of students inadvertently committing plagiarism.
By addressing each of these four spheres within the classroom context, educators help ensure that students are representing themselves appropriately online, thinking critically about information being presented to them, and utilizing online resources within the context of copyright legislations. While digital natives can definitely be considered the experts when it comes to navigating certain online platforms and connecting via digital worlds, they require guidance and support to navigate many of the critical components of digital citizenship and literacy. Without the incorporation of these skills it is as if, “our kids are growing up on a digital playground and no one is on recess duty.”
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Steeves, Valerie. (2014). “Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Online Privacy, Online Publicity.” Media Smarts. Available online at: http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/pdfs/publicationreport/full/YCWWIII_Online_Privacy_Online_Publicity_FullReport.pdf
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 Steeves, Valerie. (2014). “Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Experts or Amateurs? Gauging Young Canadians’ Digital Literacy Skills.” Media Smarts. Page 1.
 Oxford Dictionary. (2014). Digital Native. Available online at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/digital-native
 Steeve, Valerie. (2014). “Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Experts or Amateurs? Gauging Young Canadians’ Digital Literacy Skills.” Media Smarts. Page 8.
 We Are Social. (2014). “Social, Digital & Mobile Around the World”. Available online at: http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/social-digital-mobile-around-the-world-january-2014/61
 Steeves, Valerie. (2014). “Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Cyberbullying: Dealing with Online Meanness, Cruelty and Threats.” Media Smarts. Pg 2.
 Lessons in Learning. (Accessed on 2014). “Liars, fraudsters and cheats: Dealing with the growth of academic dishonesty”. Canadian Council on Learning. Available online at: http://www.ccl-cca.ca/CCL/Reports/LessonsInLearning/LinL20100707AcademicDishonesty.html
 Kharbach, Med. (2011-2014). “A Great Guide on Teaching Students About Digital Footprint.” Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. Available online at: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/04/a-great-guide-on-teaching-students.html
 Shea, Virginia. (1997). “Netiquette.” Albion Books. Available online at: http://www.albion.com/bookNetiquette/0963702513p4.html
 Steeves, Valerie. (2014). “Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Experts or Amateurs? Gauging Young Canadians’ Digital Literacy Skills.” Media Smarts. Page 46.
 Coiro, Julie. (2014). “Teaching Adolescents How To Evaluate the Quality of Online Information.” Edutopia. Available online at: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/evaluating-quality-of-online-info-julie-coiro
 lbid, 36.
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