TASIS England’s E-Safety Coordinator John Arcay on how digital citizenship teaching can ensure young people stay safe and have positive interactions in the virtual world

Digital citizenship is about the appropriate use of technologies and can be divided into three broad categories – respect, educate, and protect. These guidelines were developed by Dr Mike Ribble, co-leader for the Digital Citizenship Professional Learning Network for the International Society for Technology in Education.

At TASIS England, we focus first on the proper, respectful, and lawful use of technology. People tend to communicate very differently in person than they do with technology. It is, therefore, important to educate students to understand that virtual and real are two different things. I do believe that from the day a child steps into an educational institution, that is the first thing they should be taught. This is knowledge that will be with them forever and will influence how they engage with others through technology.

We teach Digital Citizenship in all grade levels through our Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHEE) program. In addition, our Lower and Middle Schools introduce these principles through the Library Program. We start in Lower School by introducing students to some technical terms and methodology. Throughout Middle and Upper School, students are given information that is more complex and appropriate for each age group.

TASIS England on teaching digital citizenship
Teaching young people to think critically about the virtual sources they encounter is vital, says TASIS England’s John Arcay

Technology is ubiquitous, encompassing everything that we do and – in some way, shape, or form – dictating how we live our lives. Whether it is online banking, making an appointment, calling a taxi or simply saying hello to a friend or relative on the other side of the world, technology plays a big role in securing these connections. Our students live in this digital age, so we need to help them grow positively and responsibly as they learn to interact with technology.

As an example of this, by the time children are 13 years old, social media has become their main source of information and news gathering, usually via their phones. What they often don’t understand is that, when accessing news and information this way, algorithms influence content. These are designed to show them information that is relevant to them based on previous searches and items read and/or liked.

“Our students live in this digital age, so we need to help them grow positively and responsibly as they learn to interact with technology”

Generally speaking, young people do not watch television news programs and, while network news stations are regulated by various governing bodies, there is no such thing in social media at present. The lack of regulation, together with the algorithms, means that the news received by young people is unlikely to be a holistic overview. Education is important to help students understand how algorithms work and encourage them to gather information from multiple sources.

Social media remains the technology of choice for teenagers and young adults, whether for social communication, dating or entertainment. Putting aside for one moment the frequent cases of cyberbullying, sexting, and inappropriate comments on these platforms, we need to focus on the polarization caused by the overuse of technology. Studies have shown that virtual interaction among teenagers is now greater than physical interaction. Factoring in online gaming and chat platforms like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and others, it is apparent that today’s teenagers communicate more with family and friends online than in person.

For these reasons, teaching Digital Citizenship in schools from a very young age is crucial. It is our responsibility to help young people learn to discern the difference between what is real and what is virtual, discover how information can be manipulated, and strike the right balance between social and virtual interaction. By getting this balance right early on, we will see less cyberbullying and more appropriate uses of these technologies.

TASIS England tasisengland.org

Further reading: DLD College London on learning for the here and now