Supporting Student Digital Identities

Following Dr. Couros’ presentation on digital citizenship, I found myself engaged in several timely discussions concerning the roles and responsibilities of teachers in shaping student digital identity. While the discourse was professional and engaging, I walked away feeling as though many colleagues harbour a resentment towards technology. In speaking with fellow practitioners this week, I was met with many familiar comments about the overuse of cellphones, the constant disengagement from learning, and a seemingly greater concern with social media than school. The usual suggestion to ban phones outright was followed by a decree that “things have never been so bad for us teachers” and “students just don’t want to learn”. Perhaps both statements are true, retrospect alone will judge that, but we must not resist the opportunity to promote¬† ethical, safe, and responsible online usage. The reality is, technology isn’t going anywhere and we must capitalize on it to draw students back into learning.

If Charlie Brown saw anything that was mean of humiliating he wouldn’t retweet it, he would fill people’s buckets, or cyber buckets

– Marialice Curran

Marialice Curran analogizes Charlie Brown as the ideal digital citizen. In her TedTalk, she suggests that Charlie Brown is emblematic of a student who takes the moral high road and does what is right regardless of the space that he occupies. Impressionable students can fall into a trap of presenting themselves as one way in person and another online. Teachers must find ways that build empathetic communities that operate parallel to their in-person classroom.

A common assumption regarding lack of engagement centres the notion that students just don’t want to learn. I refuse to see this as pessimistically as some and suggest that a multitude of reasons contribute to engagement issues in the classroom. Students arrive in our classrooms with personal stories that are traumatic, emotional, and sometimes neglectful. For many, digital spaces offer reprieve and gives them a sense of belonging and identity. In this sense, it becomes so closely tied to who they are that their immersion within totally disconnects them from the real world. For me, as an educator, I am curious about three overarching questions:

  1. Why are students preoccupied with their digital spaces, so much so that their reality is impacted?
  2. How can we educators better understand the nuances of technology to best engage students in learning?
  3. What does a healthy digital-literate learning environment look like?

As an aside, I don’t have a magic answer to any of the aforementioned questions, but I hope this post acts as a conduit for curious minds to consider the reality that students face a complex series of external stressors that significantly impact the way in which they engage with technology.¬† that it is not a crucial responsibility to create nurturing and safe environments in which students flesh out their digital presence.

While educators embark on their own digital learning journey, it is important to remember that we are integral in shaping our students’ digital identity. Educators are tremendously influential in the lives of students and must be cognizant of how conversations around digital spaces are approached. In considering this, I am reminded of the as the advice imparted to a young Peter Parker by uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Teaching in the digital age as complicated. On the one hand, it is exhilarating because students are afforded learning opportunities that alluded many of us when we were in school. Access to information has never been as fast or as readily available as it is today. Furthermore, the advent of technology has shifted the role of teachers wherein the focus is less on content and knowledge keeping. Alternatively, we resolve to act more as facilitators of critical thinking. In this sense, educators pose questions and guide students through problem solving and offer the skills necessary to navigate the digital world.

However, for as much wonderment as the digital age has ushered in, its ethical and legal parameters are of constant concern. Increased screen time, digital relationships, social media, cellphones, cyber-bullying etc. bring forth emotionally and socially detrimental effects. Our students struggle to navigate authentic online spaces because they are inherently bombarded by unattainable or unrealistic representations of who they should be.

For any generation, the journey through puberty into adulthood is one fraught with anxieties, insecurities, and self-doubt. But at least students twenty-five years ago had some reprieve when they went home. Today, the globalized world combined with the dopamine-induced instant-gratification society driven by social media severely limits the amount of time our students have to themselves. Empowering students to establish boundaries with digital spaces requires risk taking because it challenges the modern paradigm. Creating safe and inclusive learning environments extends beyond the walls of a classroom into a digital sphere..

If educators don’t feel they play as important a role in guiding students in digital citizenship, where will it come from?


2 thoughts on “Supporting Student Digital Identities

  1. Dear Barret,

    I really enjoyed while I was reading your blog because this issue about digital identity is one of my concerns as well. As an educator, I believe teachers must know that they are responsible to guide students in digital citizenship. It matters as if teachers first must be trained then prepare students for this topic as a course maybe to teach everything. However, It can be seen that some educators do not care about this fact and they might think it is not their responsibility. Therefore, parents have to educate digital citizenship to their children and after parents teachers are responsible to train students.

  2. Thanks for sharing the link to the Kids Health page, Barrett. I actually will use some information from that link in our debate next week, as we discuss how technology has impacted the classroom. As the resource shares how parents can define some media guidelines for teens, I thought about the parallels to us as educators. We don’t set parameters for our students in the same ways as parents do, obviously, but we do have a unique opportunity to be another voice that can reinforce how to engage in authentic online spaces, and even help to define what authentic online spaces are! That particular phrase caught my attention, as well, as I started to think about who I follow, and what I like to watch in my spare time. I enjoy watching videos of beautiful house tours, or crazy travel blogs. But I recognize that those are not real. No one person spends so much time in beautiful spaces. Those houses have to be cleaned, and paid for. That beach picture has to involve some (probably) painful airline delays and inevitable sand in the bathing suit. And I’m acutely aware of the curated content that I consume. I’m not always sure kids are, and they are growing up with constant curation. In what ways can we encourage an awareness of the authenticity (or lack thereof) of the spaces they consume?

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