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Digital Citizenship should be an extension of the school’s culture at large, just as any other type of behavior. Education in how to behave in the digital world is the responsibility of the entire community: teachers, administration, support staff, and parents can all contribute. While some classroom time is needed to directly address these issues, much more can be integrated into technology use as a part of the curriculum.

The digital difference

Most interactions in the digital world are analogous to other, more conventional interactions. There are some important differences, however, that can amplify the effects of poor choices. Many students will not have considered the ways in which their digital interactions differ from their other interactions. When these differences are kept in mind, many online choices become much easier.

Persistence – What goes online, stays online. Possibly forever.

Searchability – If it is online somewhere, it can probably be found.

Replicability – If it is online, it can be copied. By anyone.

Scalability – Nothing is too small to become important.

Invisible audiences – There’s no telling who sees something online.

Blurring of public/private – It is often unclear how public or private something is online.

Loss of non-verbal communication – Nuance and subtlety hardly exist online.

Digital footprints

Students leave behind a history that will be visible for years to come. Classmates, college recruiters, and future employers will all have access to much of the students’ digital footprints. This can certainly have very negative consequences. However, it is also important for students to try to build a positive online presence, and to consider that they will have an online reputation that may one day be very useful. An emphasis on building this positive footprint rather than negative actions may be a useful approach.

Bullying

Bullying is not tolerated at school, and bullying online is no different. Many issues can be avoided, however, by helping students realize that the same behavior codes apply online as elsewhere in the community. Understanding the differences between the online and offline worlds will only serve to emphasize that bullying online is a poor choice. Students will also be provided with healthy techniques to avoid trouble, such as a waiting period for posting, or asking a friend.

Safety

The internet can be a scary place. Students should know the best practices for life in the digital world, from choosing strong passwords to choosing what information is appropriate to share. Students should have some understanding of potentially thorny subjects such as copyright law, plagiarism, and libel. Students should also be able to make use of privacy settings and make good choices when choosing to deal with unknown entities online. Finally, students should be aware of the potential for identity theft and scams.

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