The greatest software invented for human safety is the human brain. It's time that we start using those brains. We must mix head knowledge with action. In my classroom, I use two essential approaches in the digital citizenship curriculum that I teach: proactive knowledge and experiential knowledge.
I want my students to know the "9 Key Ps" of digital citizenship. I teach them about these aspects and how to use them. While I go into these Ps in detail in my book Reinventing Writing, here are the basics:
Do students know how to create a secure password? Do they know that email and online banking should have a higher level of security and never use the same passwords as other sites? Do they have a system like LastPass for remembering passwords, or a secure app where they store this information? (See 10 Important Password Tips Everyone Should Know.)
Do students know how to protect their private information like address, email, and phone number? Private information can be used to identify you. (I recommend the Common Sense Media Curriculum on this.)
3. Personal Information
While this information (like the number of brothers and sisters you have or your favorite food) can't be used to identify you, you need to choose who you will share it with.
Are students aware that some private things may show up in photographs (license plates or street signs), and that they may not want to post those pictures? Do they know how to turn off a geotagging feature? Do they know that some facial recognition software can find them by inserting their latitude and longitude in the picture -- even if they aren't tagged? (See the Location-Based Safety Guide)
Do students understand copyright, Creative Commons, and how to generate a license for their own work? Do they respect property rights of those who create intellectual property? Some students will search Google Images and copy anything they see, assuming they have the rights. Sometimes they'll even cite "Google Images" as the source. We have to teach them that Google Images compiles content from a variety of sources. Students have to go to the source, see if they have permission to use the graphic, and then cite that source.
Do students know how to get permission for work they use, and do they know how to cite it?
Do students understand what viruses, malware, phishing, ransomware, and identity theft are, and how these things work? (See Experiential Knowledge below for tips on this one.)
Do students understand the professionalism of academics versus decisions about how they will interact in their social lives? Do they know about netiquette and online grammar? Are they globally competent? Can they understand cultural taboos and recognize cultural disconnects when they happen, and do they have skills for working out problems?
9. Personal Brand
Have students decided about their voice and how they want to be perceived online? Do they realize they have a "digital tattoo" that is almost impossible to erase? Are they intentional about what they share?
During the year, I'll touch on each of these 9 Key Ps with lessons and class discussions, but just talking is not enough. Students need experience to become effective digital citizens. Here's how I give them that:
Truth or Fiction
To protect us from disease, we are inoculated with dead viruses and germs. To protect students from viruses and scams, I do the same thing. Using current scams and cons from Snopes, Truth or Fiction, the Threat Encyclopedia, or the Federal Trade Commission website, I'm always looking for things that sound crazy but are true, or sound true but are false or a scam. I'll give them to students as they enter class and ask them to be detectives. This opens up conversations of all kinds of scams and tips.
Turn Students into Teachers
Students will create tutorials or presentations exposing common scams and how to protect yourself. By dissecting cons and scams, students become more vigilant themselves. I encourage them to share how a person could detect that something was a scam or con.
Collaborative Learning Communities
For the most powerful learning experiences, students should participate in collaborative learning (like the experiences shared in Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds). My students will collaborate with others on projects like Gamifi-ed or the AIC Conflict Simulation (both mentioned in a recent post on game-based learning).
Students need experience sharing and connecting online with others in a variety of environments. We have a classroom Ning where students blog together, and public blogs and a wiki for sharing our work with the world. You can talk about other countries, but when students connect, that is when they learn. You can talk about how students need to type in proper case and not use IM speak, but when their collaborative partner from Germany says they are struggling to understand what's being typed in your classroom, then your students understand.
Digital Citizenship or Just Citizens?
There are those like expert Anne Collier who think we should drop the word "digital" because we're really just teaching citizenship. These are the skills and knowledge that students need to navigate the world today.
We must teach these skills and guide students to experience situations where they apply knowledge. Citizenship is what we do to fulfill our role as a citizen. That role starts as soon as we click on the internet.