Teaching Digital Citizenship To Gen Y

April 15, 2015

Digital Citizenship
During my 7th and 8th grade years in school I went through classes that taught me keyboarding and computer programming. I didn’t know what “digital citizenship” even was. We learned how to compile basic computer programs and became intimate with the “home row” on our keyboard– nothing more nothing less. This was back in 1997. Ellen Degeneres had just told everyone she was gay and DVDs just became a thing. Needless to say it was a different time. That is where our problem begins. We haven’t kept pace with the importance of teaching children digital skills– especially ones that are needed in our ever-increasing digital-centric lives.

Keyboarding class was a relevant course in the mid-90s. Computing and the consumer Internet was really hitting the mainstream thanks to companies like AOL and Netscape. Being able to use a keyboard accurately and quickly was going to be important. I can easily hit 140 words per minute (WPM) and probably have an old junior high teacher to thank for it. It’s still a relevant skill, but we’re missing a lot from our advances over the past two decades when it comes to technology education.

Digital Citizenship Etiquette

Trolling and cyber bullying are huge problems with the Internet. Children still don’t understand that their behavior online can have very real and serious consequences offline. DoSomething, a global organization focused on young people and social change, reports 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online. Young kids today need to know that their actions online are just as real as those offline. Recently a newspaper in Michigan published a story about a local school district addressing cyberbullying in the student handbook issued to students. Cyberbullying is a very real problem that we need to educate children about in our schools

Digital Citizenship Literacy

This is critical in today’s technology education. Children should be taught basic coding, logic and other fundamental principles that will fuel the continued growth of the tech sector. I can remember getting access to digital cameras in circa 1995 and screen printing t-shirts. This access to being creative with digital technology may easily be the foundation for my career today. Our schools should have access to the latest tech hardware and software to exposure children to the same tools we use in the industry. Our digital literacy needs to go beyond keyboarding class. We need more: coding, videography, photography, digital design, database management and data science.

Data Citizenship Privacy and Security

We are creating so much data and information. In fact, over 90% of all the data in the world was created in the past 2 years. As children grow up today they’re producing their digital brand and most don’t know it until it’s too late. How can we expect a 13-year-old to understand that the data their creating on Tumblr, Twitter and elsewhere is being simultaneously saved by servers across the world. Teens are having conversations that we’re once private among close friends with the entire world. Not only will these conversations impact employment; imagine what future children will say when they can scroll through everything their parents tweeted or tumbled twenty years ago.

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It’s not just vulgar tweets or sexually explicit blogs we should worry about when it comes to data privacy. We’re increasingly integrating technology into our daily lives through commerce and mobile apps that bring us convenience. Where does the data go? Who has access to it? What rights do you have over your own personal data? These are questions we need to answer as a society while teaching young children the importance of these concepts.

Digital Communication Possibilities

Children quickly learn that technology can help them communicate with their friends instantly. They share food photos or the latest Kim Kardashian news. While this casual conversation is important for adding context to our social relationships, technology can do so much more. They need to understand that technology is incredibly powerful and you can harness that power for good. They can create real social change with these tools– not just share hallway gossip.

What it all means…

Our schools need to take a serious look at how their educating children about technology. The courses we’ve had for decades need to be rethought and expanded. That is a challenge given the budget constraints many of our schools face today, but it’s so important to our future. These are not skills we needed as children, but our children today need to learn the lessons before they learn them the hard way.

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