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Guest Contributor Oct 7, 2021 2:15:57 PM 8 min read

5 Questions to Learn More About Digital Citizenship

5 Questions to Learn More About Digital Citizenship

Dr. Kristen Mattson, author of Ethics in a Digital World: Guiding Students Through Society’s Biggest Questions, was a guest on the Building the Bridge podcast to share insights on digital ethics. What are the realities of the digital world our students are navigating, and how can educators and parents support students in becoming ethical digital citizens? 

What is digital citizenship?

Digital citizenship is an oft-used term that lacks a consensus definition. According to Dr. Mattson, a digital citizen is “someone who has the skills and competencies to be able to successfully communicate and collaborate and be part of digital communities in our global society.” When she thinks about ethics in a digital world, Dr. Mattson acknowledges that new questions pop up as we become a more technologically advanced society. It’s a matter of exploring the gray areas that are at the intersection of technology and humanity. 

Many view technology as something neutral; its value depends on the user and user’s intent, and technology can be used for good or for bad. In other words, it would be defined according to the way we behave as digital citizens. But as we learn more about technology and understand more about the ways that technologies are built, as well as the impacts that these technologies have on us as a society, Dr. Mattson questions whether we should still define tools as “neutral.”

“I think it’s really important for those of us who utilize all sorts of different technological tools to understand the ways that they are built, [and] how those different decisions by the people who create these technologies impact us personally, impact our relationships, [and] impact us as a society as a whole,” she says. “I think this is a discussion not just for teachers and not just for students, but it’s a discussion for all of us as human beings who utilize technology. I think the more that we can have these discussions, the better off that we will be in the future.”

How has the pandemic affected digital citizenship?

During the pandemic when all of the learning went online, it became clear that a lot of students, and unfortunately a lot of teachers and parents as well, were lacking some of the digital literacies and information technologies to be able to own their learning and harness the power of the tools in front of them. To change this, Dr. Mattson says it’s important to prioritize these skills within our curriculum and make sure that a student doesn’t just have a device, but has all of the skills and knowledge they need to utilize that device in the best ways possible. In short, the pandemic has given educators and parents a new perspective on the importance of intentionally teaching digital citizenship. 

How can we find space for digital literacy in the curriculum?

With limited time and space in a teacher’s day, how can we find the time to implement digital literacy in the curriculum? We must first collectively decide what skills and mindsets to prioritize. There are some schools that try to teach information literacy and digital citizenship skills in silos. They might have a 20-minute advisory lesson once a week that the kids get, but it’s separate from students’ daily assignments. Dr. Mattson has found a lot of success in partnering with the teachers in the humanities, specifically social studies and English. Her philosophy is that digital literacy and information media literacy skills should be embedded naturally within the content areas. When you include those higher order thinking skills, the curriculum is more engaging and relevant to the students.

How can we approach the privacy and security debate?

Whether they realize it or not, kids are creating their digital footprint. Fascinating discussions are happening in classrooms everywhere about privacy vs. security. Individuals must decide what information they are putting out there. It’s not just a matter of how much data you are willing to give up to a technology company, but are you willing to allow a company to profit off your likes and movements around the internet? Even if you are okay with it personally, are we okay with that collectively as a society? 

Dr. Mattson shares, “There are so many big questions I think that we’re facing right now, that don’t have right or wrong answers. That’s what makes them so amazing to bring into the classroom because there is no one right answer. But we can really get people diving into these topics and considering not only the pros of the technologies that we have, but maybe also some of the downsides. I’m hopeful that if we can start having these conversations early, with our middle schoolers, with our high schoolers, that they’re going to grow into the technologists that are creating the next big things, but they’re doing so in a way that benefits all of us as a humanity.”

Are there other resources to check out?

For teachers who are getting started with digital citizenship and ethics in the classroom, Dr. Mattson recommends the following resources:

2. If you’re concerned about misinformation, disinformation, helping students understand what they see, read, and navigate online, the News Literacy Project is a grant funded organization that has amazing free resources. It’s not just for educators, but for families and communities as well: https://newslit.org

3. The Stanford History Education Group Civic Online Reasoning Resources. This is another grant funded organization with free lessons and assessments that help you teach students to evaluate online information that affects them, their communities, and the world. It’s free for educators and it’s built on the Google Apps for Education platform, meaning there are slide decks that already exist as well as student handouts: https://cor.stanford.edu/

4. On her website, https://www.drkmattson.com/, Dr. Mattson shares a ton of lesson ideas, free resources, and free downloads for educators. There is also a section that is a companion for her book, Ethics in a Digital World, where she has curated stories that are in the news that can be brought into the classroom to start these conversations.

Hear more insights from Dr. Kristen Mattson on Building the Bridge, “Ep. 27 - What to Know About Digital Ethics.

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