Students today live in an interconnected world. Social media, online communities and virtual interactions permeate every aspect of modern life. Membership in this digital world requires an understanding of a new form of citizenship, and with that comes the importance of teaching digital citizenship for students. “Digital citizenship,” or the habits and techniques we use to participate in these online communities, must be explored and taught as part of any K-12 curriculum.
Share these strategies and tips with your students. More knowledge and better tools make for the very best digital citizens!
Everyone leaves a “digital footprint,” or a set of information about themselves that exists because of their online activity. For many people, their intentional digital footprint is largely innocuous: a social media profile or a personal blog.
But a digital footprint also includes unintentional information:
- browser histories
- digital photos and videos
- IP addresses
- even financial information and passwords!
Your online presence can be exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) to delete from the Internet entirely, so crafting an online identity is an essential life skill.
Two Ground Rules for Establishing an Online Identity
A capable digital citizen is someone who is equipped with the tools and knowledge to use the Internet safely and securely. Let’s start with safety:
Digital security is largely an exercise in “preventative maintenance.” Be proactive!
The importance of passwords can’t be overstated: it’s never a good idea to use a birthday, zip code, or some other readily-identifiable password to secure your data. Take a few minutes to consider a password that only you can guess and never, ever tell it to anyone.
Make sure to use different passwords as well. A “one-size-fits-all” approach may be the easiest, but it’s far from the safest.
Personal Information and Privacy
In a world of instant communication and instant gratification, it can be tempting to entrust your entire life to social media. Pictures of you, your family, your home, your classroom — once it’s online, it can be disseminated to millions of people almost instantly.
Social media profiles should be set to private by default. If the information is digital, it’s inherently public. Don’t trust anyone or any company with digital information unless you absolutely need to.
What “Not to Do” on the Internet
Believe Everything You See
Not everything you see on the Internet is true. Take everything with a grain of salt, and trust online sources only when you can verify their credibility.
Be critical! Immediately question and try to tear apart what you read—if the son of a Nigerian prince is emailing you for help, give it a second thought. If something is too good to be true, it inevitably is.
Share Everything With Everyone
Public social media profiles have their appeal, but keep it limited. Even if you set your photos to “private,” remember that those pictures are stored in a digital database somewhere. No company can completely guarantee the security of your data, so don’t post anything online that you don’t want to world to see.
Digital Footprints and Real Life
Employers invest a lot of time and money into their staff, and the hiring process has never been more competitive. If a simple Google search can show that you participate in unsavory online communities or engage in irresponsible behavior, an employer is going to think twice about that job offer. Trust us, employers will check your digital footprint.
Colleges are constantly on the prowl for new and better ways to gauge a student’s eligibility. Gone are the days of a single test result determining your school placement. Instead, colleges want to know that their students are capable, rationale citizens who express responsible behavior.
Whether it’s a personal blog, social media profile, or comments made online, it’s vital to ensure that your digital footprint is positive.
Examples of Pitfalls
Few things in an educational setting are as difficult to witness as bullying, and cyberbullying is no exception. In fact, it’s argued that cyberbullying may actually be worse for students than “traditional” bullying–for many students, the Internet can be a place of anonymity and peace. Cyberbullying is persistent and follows the student home from school in the most personal of ways.
Engaging in cyberbullying on social media, for example, is a surefire way to ensure that future employers or colleges won’t look twice at an applicant.
Lack of Privacy
Once it’s online, it’s always online. No matter how private your social media accounts are, the information you put there will always exist in the public sphere. Did you know the IRS uses social media in their audit determinations? There’s always someone watching!
Virtual is (Still) Reality
Remember: the virtual world is just as real as the physical one. Everything about your digital identity is linked to your real personage, so take the time to craft a positive online image. Don’t engage in activities that may give others cause to question your credibility. Take everything with a grain of salt and follow basic security procedures to maintain your digital integrity.