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Digital citizenship through a Catholic lens – the challenges

Tania James  |  12 July 2018

kids on a computer

The most basic definition of digital citizenship is ‘being good’ online, but the term encompasses much more than that. It covers numerous online topics including plagiarism, copyright and authoring issues. In Part One of the blog we look at the challenges of being online.           

Our students are deemed ‘digital natives’ because they were born into a world where engaging with digital technologies and social media is the norm. However, there is no precedent for its moral or ethical use and the ‘learn-as-you-go’ approach doesn’t seem to be working. Companies such as Google and Common Sense Media have released the ‘Digital Citizenship Curriculum’ to help teachers educate their students.

Employers are searching for graduates whose education has included the Four Cs – critical thinking skills, communication skills, creativity and innovation skills, and collaboration and team-building skills. These skills are readily identifiable in the Australian Curriculum’s general capabilities. Technology helps us facilitate the development of these skills but how do we teach students to be responsible with its use?

Licence needed?

I like to compare the use of digital tools and technologies to that of a high-speed performance vehicle. They both give you freedom, access to places you couldn’t normally go and require practice and training before you’re allowed to use them. Well, one does anyway.

When your teenager comes of age, passes their driving test and is legally allowed to drive, do you toss them your car keys? Of course not. You talk to them about taking it easy on the roads, going slow, not speeding, being courteous to other drivers. While you may have complete faith in their driving skills and abilities, you give them the chat about keeping a watch for the other ‘idiots’ they may encounter on the roads.

Why then, do we give students devices to high-speed internet without training and practice? You need a licence to drive a car, perhaps in schools we need to give students a ‘digital device licence’? That may seem extreme but once we thought writing with a ballpoint pen was so important we had licences for those.

As a school, if you are in the process of formulating some sort of financial plan for the roll out of digital devices, shouldn’t you also be formulating an accompanying digital citizenship?

Egocentricity rules

For this generation of digital natives, social media is all about me. Tweeting opinions, taking ‘selfies’, checking in to all the ‘cool spots’ – it’s about telling everyone all about you. Information in this digital age carries faster than any time period before us. Word can spread quickly about a party, clothes sale or a lost dog. This is a powerful thing, hence my analogy above. This generation can breed hate quicker than ever before thanks to the speed of the internet. Why do people today think it is OK to be nasty to others online? Why do they think it’s OK to video events that are socially unjust and post them online? Why don’t they use the phone to call for help instead of videoing a bully in action? It’s as if the real-world rules don’t apply online.

Digital footprint

What students need to realise is that everything you do online is logged and recorded somewhere. Not only that, it's oput there for the entire world to see, perhaps forever. You leave an imprint of your life when you engage and interact in digital ways. What do you want that imprint to say about you? Teachers need to lead the way with this. Teachers need to be role models in the responsible use of digital technologies and social media. Are teachers aware of their digital footprint? I recently heard a story from a principal who 'Googled' his top three interview candidates for a position at his school. One application went straight into the bin and the applicant will never know that it was because the principal saw a photo of the applicant inebriated on Facebook. Perhaps the principal could've looked past it if it was a photo from five years ago, but it was only posted the week before.

Aim high

When we provide students with access to digital resources, is it good enough to just teach children to 'behave' online? Or should we be aiming higher than that? As educators, we need to think seriously about the power bestowed on our digital natives and teach them, with love, kindness and support, how to do great things. The Gospel values should permeate everything we do in the school setting. We need to explain to our students that, if you're being nasty or you're doing something that is deceitful, greedy or unjust then you aren't living like Jesus. Ultimately, we are here to serve God. We need to teach our children to proclaim the Good News just like Jesus did. Because after all, they have a miraculous powe he never had, high-speed internet access.

Part two looks at the opportunities being a responsible digital citizen provide.

Tania James is assistant principal and vice-president Catholic Assistant Principal’s Association, Western Australia (CAPA W.A.).; @taniajames

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash





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