Digital Citizenship: The Bigger Picture

Bodies in Motion

Paul Stevenson, ‘Bodies in motion’, CC O


The 2011 study by Gfk bluemoon for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) entitled, ‘Like, post, share: Young Australians’ experience of social media’ is a must read for all who are concerned with the education of Digital Citizenship in schools.  Although it is now 4 years old, this study raised some concerns for me regarding how we handle the concept of Digital Citizenship with our students.

The ACMA study highlighted 5 key concerns for me:

1. Many schools have identified the importance of educating students in Digital Citizenship and are beginning to  integrate Digital Citizenship into their curriculum or personal development programs.  This is a fantastic start, as creating awareness of Digital Citizenship is essential, however, what is often overlooked in these programs is the fact that there must be a tessellation between education and modelling. The more I teach and read about digital citizenship in the classroom, the more I am coming to terms with the fact that, in order to have an effective influence on your students, you need to be open to discussion and modelling around what you ‘preach’. The ACMA study discussed that often, students are quite well educated in cybersafety, the concern is more that they don’t put their knowledge into action when they witness or partake in risky behaviour.  By modelling Digital Citizenship for your students through having an active PLN, discussing personalised issues as they arise, and actively engaging students in your online behaviours, they will not only ‘know’ what is appropriate but also ‘see’ what is appropriate, challenging them to follow your lead.

2.  It’s all well and good for specialist teachers, such as Teacher-Librarians, to teach Digital Citizenship however, this isn’t effective unless the same lessons are followed up by classroom teachers and parents.  The ACMA study found that many students model the online behaviours of their parents and older siblings. While many parents believe they are supervising the behaviours of their children online, often this is limited to managing the time they spend online, not the content they are accessing.  Also, parents believe that it is adequate to monitor their child’s interactions online through ‘friending’ them on Facebook,  completely unaware that children report all of the important online interactions happen through  chat and private messaging.  The ACMA study also indicated that students are more likely to take greater risks online if their older siblings are active online, without the maturity to realise the consequences of their behaviour.  Similarly, if classroom teachers are not modelling positive Digital Citizenship in class, students are less likely to believe that they should be good digital citizens.   This refers back to the difference between education and modelling.  My concern is that we spend time in school teaching and modelling appropriate online behaviours, but parents and the wider community have limited awareness of Digital Citizenship and thus, aren’t modelling these behaviours to the students.  This provides a disconnect between what students are learning in school and what is actually happening in the ‘real world’. Hence, the ACMA findings that students are often aware of what constitutes appropriate behaviour but ignore their learnings in favour of partaking in behaviours that ‘everyone else is’, make perfect sense. Understandably, students are less likely to heed advice from parents or teachers who aren’t ‘tech savvy’.

3.  Following on from this, many students find that they ‘know it all’ when it comes to Digital Citizenship and online behaviours and the older they get, the less responsive they are to education programs.  What they need are relevant, engaging examples and discussions that they can relate to personally.  Consequently, enlisting the help of experts from the wider community who can demonstrate the effects of poor digital citizenship and risky online behaviours to students,  both in the short and long term, is much more effective than ‘preaching’.

4.  The biggest take away that students get from interacting online is feedback.  They ‘post’, ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on the things that they want others to see and do the same on.  For example, a student posting a ‘selfie’ on their page is clearly waiting for others to ‘like’ or give their feedback on the image, creating a need for the approval of their peers. This in itself creates a struggle for students as they build, negotiate and present their personality and identity through their online interactions.  The actions and identity of students are no longer confined to the physical environment.

5.  For me, the ACMA study reflected that educators are doing a great job in providing students with the information they need to be good Digital Citizens and behave responsibly online.  What we need to focus on now is how we make students aware that their actions online are permanent, and not easily erased. The concept of a digital footprint is something that students find difficult to grasp, as the future seems such a long way away.  What students put online will increasingly affect their job opportunities in the future, as employers find inappropriate comments, images and interactions with a simple Google search.  Again, we need to prove students with real-life examples of positive and negative footprints and model digital footprints through our own actions online, particularly with the emergence of mobile social networking and geo-spatial tagging. I often ‘Google’ myself with students to demonstrate how we can manipulate the information about us online in a positive manner.  This is just as essential as being aware of cyber safety and responsible behaviours.

We need to see the bigger picture in regards to Digital Citizenship.  Pushing information to students regarding digital citizenship is not enough.  To be effective we must be modelling and providing the connect between education and reality.