The Importance Teaching Digital Citizenship

This weeks debate considered the role of teachers in leading students through their development as digital citizens. The complexities of navigating digital spaces are exacerbated by an ever increasing societal reliance on technology. Students are developing a digital footprint earlier than ever and the paradigm altering effect of social media has completely reshaped the way families interact. Today’s educational landscape does not resemble that of mine as a student. As I discussed in a previous post, many of us remember our childhood as a simpler time and one tinged in a nostalgic ere of whimsical imagination uninhibited by the glow of a screen. The topic is challenging because it asks us to consider our own relationship with technology and how we can best facilitate learning about 21st century citizenship.

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Kudos go to the debate teams of JR & Laura and Rahima & Jessica for a tremendously well-argued debate. Both sides offered well executed introductory statements and followed with concise, thoughtful, and logical rebuttals. Heading into the debate, I considered the topic a no-brainer and so clearly assumed that teachers should be expected to teach students digital citizenship alongside subjects like ELA and math. However, Jessica and Rahima proved formidable opponents and created a compelling argument as to why that expectation is not so apparent.

Digital composite of Eye scanning a futuristic interfaceWhile incredibly rewarding, the profession is hard. Teachers are pulled in so many directions and the compounding effect of year-over-year budget cuts increases stress. Essentially, teachers are asked to do more with less. Finding time to complete subject specific curricula, manage the needs of diverse classrooms, and run extra curricular activities leaves little time in the day to simply eat lunch. Many teachers are not tech savvy and lack the technical know-how necessary to navigate online spaces. As eloquently argued in the debate, there is an inherent belief that teachers in 2023 have a strong fundamental understanding of technology. However, many educators are now resisting this notion, and argue that some responsibility be levied on parents and caregivers to offer their child lessons in social responsibility which includes monitoring their digital presence.


With that said…I do believe that teachers bare the brunt of the responsibility in developing digital literacy for their students. As we become more deeply engrained in a tech-centric world, it is imperative that teachers embed digital literacy and competencies into their pedagogical practice. Education extends beyond textbooks and curriculum. All teachers want to guide their students towards becoming better, well-rounded, and informed individuals. The core tenants of citizenship like kindness and generosity go beyond face-to-face interactions. Increasingly, students are immersed in digital world and must learn how to extend their citizenship.

In her TedTalk, Keegan Korf unpacks the role educators have in helping students establish their authentic self in digital spaces. Much like Korf, early in my career I considered the daunting ramifications of the pictures I posted and the comments I made. Prior to entering the profession, I aspired to be a police officer (a career even more heavily scrutinized than teaching). I vividly recall attending an information session for interested recruits. While I wanted to learn about the rigorous application process, the majority of the time was spent fielding questions about social media and hearing a resounding “we don’t want you to have a social presence.” This was during the infancy of tweets, likes, and shares, but it was interesting to consider that only a decade ago institutions and organizations were policing (pun intended) how people presented their authentic self online. However, many of these organizations are relaxing their stance on their employees’ digital presence. Many educators have demonstrated how social media can enhance their reach and use it to engage in meaningful discourse.

Korf’s message is incredibly powerful because it resists the idea that online mistakes are catastrophic to future success. Instead of students using social media for good, they are more concerned with the negative fallout from one bad picture or one bad comment. As she mentions, the frontal cortex of the brain does not fully develop until a person is 25. This is significant because the actions and behaviours (negative and positive) of teenagers can be attributed to their immature brain development. Teachers do not have to be the most tech savvy individual to offer resources around tech-etiquette (cyber-bullying, sexting, political discourse etc.). Ultimately, we want our students to graduate high school possessing a level of competency so they can make informed and rational decisions concerning their interactions online.

2 thoughts on “The Importance Teaching Digital Citizenship

  1. Great post Jeff. I agree that even though teachers have a lot on their plates, it is still necessary for them to teach students the skills needed to be responsible digital citizens. I also really appreciated the message from the TED Talk by Korf which reassures students and teachers alike that the expectation for someone’s online presence can’t be perfection. She says it’s ok to mess up but also stresses the importance of teachers (and parents) helping kids understand their digital identities.

  2. Your last paragraph had me scratching my head Jeff. Am I on board with this, or am I ready to riot against it? The number “25” jumped out at me and had me wondering, do we as educators just worry about getting students through high school and hope they can make it to 25? Will they be coming to me when they are 23 asking me questions about their digital footprint? If we do not address this topic with students, will they be able to figure it out or do we just cross our fingers and hope for the best? I definitely see digital citizenship, literacy, and footprint education on the horizon for educators, and that is not a bad thing.

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