Teaching digital citizenship without condoning risky business

by Mr. Sheehy

Heading into the weekend, I have begun work on a project regarding digital citizenship and general “street-smarts” curriculum for students. I am working with a few others on the project and am excited about the chance to work on something like this in a collaborative context. Projects and research into ares like digital citizenship have long appealed to me, but I have never been interested in doing it by myself. I have enough going on that I do not need to add that to the list of impossible things to do.

The first step for me with this project is to catch up to my collaborators, who have been collecting materials and articles about digital citizenship for quite some time. In reading through the sources they’ve tagged on del.icio.us, I noticed one remarkable aspect of the digital citizenship conversations right away–many of our concerns come from students sharing their inappropriate actions.

Take this article in PCPro, which discusses a study that examined teenagers’ social networking sites and found that

54% of the publicly available accounts they checked contained information about high-risk behaviour: 41% mentioned substance abuse, 24% sexual activity and 14% violence

The expert consulted exclaims, “No one says, ‘Whoa! Why are you putting that up there?'”

Or there’s this one in eSchool News, which points out that “one in five teenage girls admitted to sending or posting revealing photos of themselves online.” Again, we could echo the expert from PCPro’s article (‘Whoa! Why are you putting that up there?’), or we could ask a different question.

Isn’t it a more appropriate question to ask, “Whoa! Why are you DOING these things?” Are we alarmed that 54% of our teens are talking about their high risk behavior, or that 54% are engaging in high risk behavior? Students have always talked about these things–they did when I was in school, though I was one to avoid those ridiculous conversations as much as possible. Why are we surprised that they talk about them on their social networking pages?

Maybe we’re not surprised, but as I begin to assemble a kind of curriculum for digital citizenship, it seems rather odd that part of my endeavor is to teach kids not to talk about these things on MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo. Essentially, what that means is that I am coaching students how to hide their iniquities more effectively.

That’s certainly NOT what I want to do, and one of the keys for me will be to look at this project as an opportunity to guide students away from these kinds of activities. It may be futile, but if I forget to seize that opportunity, my work could become a kind of wink while I teach students how to hide. I’ll take futility over that option.

I’d much rather be a part of exposing such actions to light than teaching folks how to bury their iniquity deeper in the darkness.

Thanks for reading.