More and more children entering elementary and middle school are coming into the classroom having at least some familiarity with the internet. Whether through gaming, social apps or YouTube, becoming a digital native seems to be happening at younger ages, many times even before children enter their first classroom. This only increases the importance of teaching our students smart and ethical internet use.
What Is Digital Citizenship?
Teaching children to be literate digital citizens consists of instructing students to stay alert, make smart decisions, be considerate and kind, and communicate what they witness in the digital space with trusted adults. Because these are skills learned, it is necessary that teachers provide a model of how responsible internet users act in order to help students develop healthy habits when browsing online.
Why Teach These Principles in School?
Many parents do not have access to resources on how to instruct their children on navigating through the often overwhelming nature of the internet. As young children, students are more susceptible to exposing themselves to malware or threats to privacy. As students grow older and transition into adolescence, it becomes especially important to talk about online behavior. By that age, many have already been exposed to cyber-bullying and demeaning language. By developing habits that reinforce tolerance both on and offline, students can be deterred from behaving poorly and, instead, promoting a healthier online space.
How Do We Teach It?
First, we need to find activities that might prove helpful in instructing your students on making smart decisions as digital citizens. Some educators have had students use meme generators to create memes that highlight good digital citizenship practices or expose poor ones. Students also need to learn how to identify false or misleading information. Teachers might find it useful to create an evaluation sheet where students are required to judge the credibility of a website's content. Reinforcing the behavior of talking to adults about what the students find on the internet is crucial. Open communication will keep parents and teachers informed on the types of websites the child interacts with and what they experience online.
Many teachers today feel unprepared to teach digital citizenship literacy as much of the curriculum is relatively new. Though some online resources offer activities and brief descriptions of relevant teaching methodology, successful teachers understand that in order to become truly effective in their own classrooms, they may need to develop their own materials to meet the specific needs of their students. Earning a master's degree in education can help educators achieve their goal of educating their unique classrooms in digital citizenship curriculum.
The University of Louisiana Monroe offers an online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration on Elementary Education. This training includes research-based approaches to teaching digital citizenry that equips educators with dynamic and effective pedagogy to ensure students become smart, safe and successful in the digital space. The degree is offered completely online, allowing educators from around the country to earn a degree without leaving the classroom.
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