Imagine if society didn’t have any rules and anyone could do whatever they liked, whenever they liked, with no regard for anyone else, and without accountability – that would be pretty chaotic, not to mention unpleasant and really stressful!
That’s why we have laws to live by: to protect us, keep us safe and to try to make society a decent place to live in, whilst keeping our interactions with others civil and respectful.
The online world
So, it makes sense to have rules and guidelines in place for how we conduct ourselves online too, because it’s not the anonymous, lawless parallel universe that some people seem to think that it is. Such rules need to be taught from an early age to encourage young people to grow up to be good digital citizens, so they can participate fully and gain the benefits from all the internet has to offer, without getting trapped in its darker side.
Now that technology is present in the majority of school classrooms, students are required to use it every day to collaborate, communicate and learn. If they can develop good digital citizenship skills and do this in a responsible and safe way, then they not only protect themselves, but contribute to creating a harmonious online environment for everyone.
What students need to learn
Increasingly, digital citizenship isn’t being taught exclusively as a standalone subject, but is woven into every lesson that students use technology for. There are nine main areas that are considered essential for students to know about*.
1. Access: Students should bear in mind that not everyone has access to technology; this is called the ‘digital divide’.
2. Commerce: A huge amount of financial transactions are carried out online, whether it is simple online shopping from Amazon or the transfer of a corporation’s assets. Students need to be aware of what is legal and what is not, plus learn about the sensible use of credit cards and so on.
3. Communication: Of course, students communicate with their friends via social media every day. But there are different standards for connecting with different people and it’s vital that they learn the appropriate styles to use.
4. Etiquette: Just as in real life, there are varying social norms and manners for different situations. It’s no different online and students must learn what is required for each one.
5. Health: Students should be aware that using technology constantly will take a toll on their health and posture and they should take plenty of breaks from using it.
6. Law: Contrary to the popular belief that you can do anything you like on line, laws do exist that make people accountable for their actions. For example, hacking and identity theft are both serious breaches of the law and can result in the involvement of the police, at the very least.
7. Literacy: This is about being tech savvy across different devices and knowing the appropriate uses for each one.
8. Rights and responsibilities: This is to do with our rights of privacy and free speech – and our responsibility to respect that these rights apply to other people too.
9. Security: Protecting yourself with the use of complex passwords, backing up your data, and never giving anyone your login details for anything, means your data remains safe.
The internet isn’t going away any time soon and today’s children are going to be using it in one form or another for their whole lives. Therefore, students need to have these digital citizenship guidelines at the forefront of their minds from an early age. The success in adhering to them comes from the understanding of why they exist and how this helps to create an agreeable online environment whose benefits everyone can enjoy.