Digital Citizenship in Australian Schools

Digital Citizenship Should be Part of Formal Education.  Here is Why…

The global digital landscape is growing at an exponential rate and with it, the need for digital citizenship.

According to research, over half the world’s population is online, with an average of six hours spent in the digital realm – every single day. Times that by around 4.1 billion people and you will find that they will spend over a billion years on the internet in just one year. We are living in a super-connected age which means and as a result our digital footprint is rapidly expanding. No matter who or where we are, when we are online we are all digital citizens. We are part of one global community, and what we do in this community can have a big influence on ourselves and everyone else.

In Australia, the percentage is even greater: 88% of our population is active on the internet. Our schools exist to shape the future generations: in keeping with this mission, every Australian school must teach good Digital Citizenship. This is not a nice to have. This is a must have.

 

Digital footprints create lasting memories

No matter how aware we are of online privacy, every digital citizen has a digital footprint. Our digital footprint is the trail of data unintentionally left behind as we explore and use the internet, or as others include us in their internet activities. Most people start developing a digital footprint from the moment we are born, or even before that. As we grow up, this digital footprint grows with us. In some ways, the digital world is as real as the physical realm. We should treat our digital selves with the same respect and care as our ‘real world’ selves. But unlike physical footprints, a person’s digital footprint is almost indestructible and everlasting – it will affect our legacy and how people remember us.

 

What goes on the internet, stays on the internet

It is great that digital citizens can share interesting information, stories about their lives and images in the digital world and get feedback. But unfortunately, sharing doesn’t always have a positive outcome. As soon as information gets online, people can share it around quickly and easily. It can also be challenging to remove. Every image and word can be altered and misinterpreted. Issues happen when people share content outside of a trusted group. A good digital citizen is careful not to betray that trust.

 

It’s become prevalent for teens to misuse their mobile phones by taking sexually inappropriate photos or videos of themselves and sending it to others. They may not be conscious of the potential repercussions of such behaviour. Australian schools often end up dealing with these issues once they have reached a point of no return: the damage has happened. Instead of allowing the damage to occur, schools should educate students and monitor their online behaviour with a tool such as Saasyan Assure. This proactive approach allows schools to fulfil their duty of care and prevent reputational damage to their students and themselves.

 

Crafting a positive digital reputation

We define our digital reputation by how we behave online, and by what content we post about ourselves and others. Every tagged photo, blog post and all interactions on social media shapes how people see us currently, and in the future – both online and offline. A poor digital reputation can influence relationships, friendships, and even job prospects. It is fast becoming standard practice for employers, college admissions offices and scholarship committees to do online searches as they consider applications. They are finding content and judging us by it. As such, it is extremely important to protect our digital reputation these days. It has the potential to make or break our careers and academic prospects.

Students form life-long relationships and shape careers during their school years. They can also build a strong digital reputation while in their teens – or damage their future, with irresponsible, dangerous, or hurtful actions online.

 

What is digital citizenship? 

Digital citizenship is considered to be “the norms of responsible and appropriate technology use”. A digital citizen uses digital technology for gathering information, researching, entertainment and expanding horizons. Becoming a better digital citizen in the online world involves having appropriate online etiquette, protecting private information, keeping up a good digital reputation and not engaging in cyberbullying. Another highly important aspect of being a good digital citizen involves standing up against cyberbullying and all other cyber malpractices including hacking, phishing, spoofing and spamming.

 

Good digital citizenship means having responsibility

Being a digital citizen is a fun and enlightening experience. So many social media platforms, apps, and forums are available to us. We digital citizens can speak our minds to the world about any topic. We can comment, learn, or create something brand new. We have opportunities to leave a unique and lasting digital footprint.

The top three elements of good digital citizenship are safety, social and savvy. Here are some guidelines with school students in mind.

 

Safety for digital citizens

Keeping digitally safe means using digital literacy and know-how to protect yourself and your friends. Digital Safety involves acknowledging your responsibilities and rights when using digital technologies. And – a good digital citizen also helps keep others safe online.

Safety for digital citizens involves:

  • Standing up against cyberbullying and protecting your friends by blocking and reporting cyberbullying and other upsetting online experiences to trusted adults.
  • Reporting offensive or illegal content, collecting evidence and reporting threats of violence to the police.
  • Making sure your behaviour is within the confines of the law. Hacking is a crime. Illegal downloads, digital theft and causing damage to other people online are crimes. Even sabotage to someone else’s relationship online is a crime.
  • Protecting your online privacy, and the privacy of others in the online community.
  • Setting your social media profiles to private and checking now and then to make sure the settings haven’t changed.

 

Part of digital citizenship is being social

The internet is a great place to socialise with friends and family, especially when they’re far away. You can also make new friends and even find work and study prospects. For this to work for you, it’s important to keep up a good digital reputation. Do this by:

  • Making well-informed decisions about the actions you take online.
  • Thinking before sharing personal information, or posting or sending anything, and carefully considering whether any of these actions may damage your digital reputation.
  • Remembering your online information could be there forever, and your personal information may end up being seen by people you don’t know, including potential employers.
  • Asking good quality questions online and thinking about what to ask, where to ask and how to ask. Being mindful of your attitude when asking questions is important. The better your attitude, the better your chances to set up and maintain healthy relationships with your online world.

 

Becoming internet savvy

Internet savvy is all about education and getting to know the rules and etiquette of the internet. If you want to be a savvy digital citizen, make sure you are:

  • Respectful of the rights of others to have their opinion and views.
  • Being polite and not overreacting in the case of any negative response. It’s often hard to ‘read’ emotion in digital communication. Err on the side of thinking the best of others.
  • Asking before tagging other people or posting photos of others. Keeping an eye out for photos of you that were tagged by friends and removing any offensive images.
  • Thinking about how your actions online can impact on you, the people you know and on the broader digital community.
  • Analysing your online surroundings properly and accepting what helps you. Being wise enough to reject what is “wrong” and pick up the one that is good and trustworthy.
  • Treating others in the digital realm as you would like them to treat you.

 

The role schools play in digital citizenship

We believe schools should ask their students, especially the senior ones, what digital citizenship is. The goal is to get them thinking about the cause and effect their attitudes and how they behave online. Starting a discussion about digital citizenship will pave the way for students to start becoming more aware of what’s right and wrong in the digital realm. It will help them to take other perspectives into account when it comes to discussing controversial topics. As an exercise, students should “Google” themselves to see how they seem to the world. Each student should present their findings in class, and if any of the content they uncovered is upsetting or disturbing, they should discuss how it made them feel.

 

Cyberbullying

Although bullying has been around for a long time, it has become a lot more invasive. Before the internet became widely used, bullies could only harass others at school or in social situations. Now they can infiltrate lives through social media platforms, texts, games, apps email and countless other methods of communication available to digital citizens. Thousands of young people get bullied online every day. They suffer from embarrassment or humiliation and experience emotional and psychological distress. Some experience so much trauma that they feel the only way out is to harm themselves, or even take their own lives. The 2017 Youth Risk Behaviour Surveillance System by the CDC indicated that 14.9% of high school students were bullied online in the 12 months preceding the survey.

 

Digital citizens should be aware of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a crucial topic for teens, and many students have experienced it in some form. As cyberbullying is so common among young people, students have usually seen it happening to someone they care about or know. They may also have experienced or heard about cases of self-harm and even suicide resulting from cyberbullying. These students can conceive the worst-case scenario. It is vital that they understand that the school won’t tolerate online bullying and that there will be consequences. They need to understand that what happens online cannot be taken lightly and that it has the potential to ruin peoples’ lives.

Only through education, monitoring, and good Pastoral Care can a school play an effective role in cultivating good digital citizens and so help combat cyberbullying.

Start your journey of creating good digital citizens here.