Oops, Someone has let me onto a digital citzenship panel

by Mr. Sheehy

After working with TIE on Digital Citizenship a few years ago, creating the My FootprintSD website, I have been invited to be part of a short panel discussion about the topic. They forwarded me a few of the questions that they’ll be asking and I’ve enjoyed thinking about them.

What messages about courtesy are students getting from adults and the world around them? How does this translate to the digital world?

This is a question I admit to liking a lot, because it is part of my overall conviction about what we’re seeing students put online. Are we disturbed by students putting inappropriate pictures of themselves online or that they’re doing the inappropriate things? Students say mean things to and about each other all the time. Is it shocking to see them use digital tools to continue the trend? I overheard a student call her dad today with some bad (but not terrible) news and though I was standing 10 feet away I could hear him cuss on the other end of the connection. If this is how children learn to act, is it any wonder that they use these methods with their chosen media?

Then there is the question about whether parents are actively teaching manners and courtesy to their children. I do not know–I am no sociologist and have not read any good studies on the topic–but little children can learn as easily today as they could in generations previous, so I would hypothesize that if they’re not being used, they’re not being taught.
What is it about technology that makes it so friends are suddenly bullying friends?

I keep thinking about a scene in Lord of the Flies where Jack has finally rallied a group of boys together to make a tribe beneath him, and he promises triumphantly that tomorrow they will eat meat. One boy asks him with trepidation how they will start a fire (as they do not possess Piggy’s glasses) and Jack blushes. The thing is, no one sees him blush, because he now wears paint over his face, and the barrier of paint eliminates the embarassment he would have otherwise felt. He is dangerously emboldened with that layer between him and the world, just as our children and comment-trolls are emboldened by the layer between them and their listeners.

I also asked my students about this question, and here is what they said:

  • It is easy not to think before you speak and do something you’ll regret. People need time to cool off when angry and with technology they can grab hold of the fire in the moment.
  • It’s easier to be mean to someone when that someone isn’t there to get mad back.
  • You can’t get punched in the face in response.
  • You can’t tell if someone is joking or not.
  • With technology you have time to think of a come back.
  • People think that they can say whatever they want and they’re invulnerable to what the other person might do or say.
  • It is easy to confront someone who can do nothing but send a message back.
  • Kids don’t think they’ll get in trouble.

Are you a trusted adult for students? What adult qualities engender trust among students?

I cannot claim too much wisdom about how to be a trusted adult, but I do think it is crucial to be friendly and caring toward my students. I can particularly communicate that by being cheerful. If a student walked in and took a surprise 30 second video of me in my classroom, would that video show a man who is enjoying being here?
How would you define a positive digital footprint and why is this so important?

In our Digital Citizenship project of a few years back I used this idea of a positive or negative digital footprint, but as I have thought about answering this question, I think the metaphor is limited. It seems it would be better to frame the idea as the digital footprint of a wise or foolish person. A fool exposes himself to identity theft; a wise man guards his important financial and personal records. A fool falls prey to a $3 billion online pornography industry; a wise man keeps his eyes from temptation. A fool uses digital tools to abuse friends; a wise man uses digital tools to encourage others and foster friendship. And on and on it goes.

Thanks for reading.

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