Digital Citizenship and Education?

Schools are designed to educate society. At age 5, you happily bound into your kindergarten classroom and begin your academic journey towards becoming an intelligent, functioning member of society. That education isn’t just the basic information you need to know to be an educated person; you’re also being taught how to interact with the people and the world around you.

Our society is constantly plugged in. We hear about news as it happens, we take classes online, we date online, we have jobs that only exist because the internet is a thing. The internet isn’t just a means to find recipes and dog names; it’s become an integral part of our daily lives.

There is a generation growing up that might not understand that the internet, and all of the technology attributed to it, didn’t exist. Maybe their parents or their grandparents will say, “Back in my day, there was no such thing as the internet! We had to remember everything that we learned, haul around an encyclopedia, or be resigned to the fact the we were dolts!”

They will understand that there was a time that the internet didn’t exist, but since the internet has become so entwined with our everyday lives, they might not be able to grasp what life was like without it. People used to camp to get away from radios and cars. Now you can watch Netflix on your phone while you’re sitting around a campfire. Preschoolers are streaming videos on iPads, First graders are texting mom when they get home from school, and more and more people communicate primarily through social media.

Internet technology and all these new ways of communicating are a permanent fixture in our society, and schools are designed to guide individuals to function in society. So, should digital citizenship be taught in schools? Digital citizenship is kind of like etiquette for technology. It’s the idea that there is an appropriate and responsible way to engage and interact with digital technology.

There’s no doubt that the internet has more than its fair share of troublemakers. Punks, jerks, scoundrels, creeps, on the internet they’re known as trolls. They live to wreak havoc on the internet by calling people names, posting obscene images, firing off profanities, and being awful in general. The question is, how much would teaching digital citizenship change all of that?

Consider the fact that there are people who bully and abuse others without the aid of the internet. In the same way that trolls are vulgar and offensive online, there are people who are vulgar and offensive in person. However, the argument could be made that the internet offers people distance and anonymity that they wouldn’t otherwise have, which could facilitate if not encourage poor behaviors.

Most people wouldn’t plop down on a park bench and shout obscenities from behind a newspaper. You’d be anonymous, no one could see your face from behind your pulp paper curtain. So, why are there more trolls online than hooligans offline?

Right now, many people treat online experience as different from physical experiences, because for many, they are. Virtual experiences seem very distinct from things experienced in person. There’s not the sense of responsibility that comes from face to face interactions, because it doesn’t seem like it’s required.

If digital citizenship were taught in schools, that would all change right?

Well, it certainly wouldn’t hurt, but it might not be necessary. The idea that needs to be conveyed is that internet experience should be treated just like any face-to-face experience. This idea might be something that comes naturally with technology being integral to everyday life. Maybe not to people who see the two as distinct, but to the younger generation growing up with the two being the same thing. There will no longer be virtual experiences and physical experiences, they would all just be experiences. Rather than thinking, “This interaction is different because It’s nothing like speaking to someone face-to-face”, they will go into it with the same amount of respect and consideration as if they were speaking to someone face to face.

Already many of us shop online or in the physical space without making a distinction. We collaborate with online tools or in the same room and we don’t divide the two parts of the collaborative experience.

Chances are, we should teach digital citizenship… but we only have to call it “citizenship”.






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