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3 ways to weave digital citizenship into your curriculum

By Nicole Krueger 3/15/2014 Topics: Digital citizenship

In the famous words of Spider-Man writer Stan Lee: With great power comes great responsibility.

Actually, Voltaire might have said it first. Or possibly Jesus.

The point is, if we're going to empower students to create and share online, we've also got to teach them how to responsibly wield the power of connectivity. When we don't, we end up with misattributed quotes like the one above — or worse. Cyberbullying, plagiarism and a detrimental digital footprint are just a few of the problems that can arise when kids treat the internet as an information free-for-all.

Every school approaches digital citizenship a bit differently. Many teach it as a separate unit, often as part of health or character education classes. While any amount of digital citizenship education is better than none, it's most effective when it's integrated into the curriculum across all grades so the message gets reinforced again and again.

"You want to create a positive culture in your school, so the more teachers who can address it across subjects and grade levels, the better," said Kelly Mendoza of Common Sense Media, which offers a free K-12 digital literacy and citizenship curriculum for educators, available online or as iBooks. "It has to be ongoing. You have to keep doing it and reminding your students."

Fortunately, in a classroom where students already use technology, it's a simple matter to incorporate a digital citizenship component into any lesson — all while meeting both the ISTE Standards and the Common Core. For example, teachers have the opportunity to address digital citizenship whenever students:

1. Create digital presentations

Anytime students create content to share online, teachers can supplement the lesson with an age-appropriate discussion about copyright and fair use. Mendoza suggests going beyond simply showing students how to properly cite ideas and images.

"Flip the tables on them. When they're creating and sharing their work with the world online, ask them: How do you want other people to use your work? Would you want other people to make a profit off it, share it or alter it? That's when it really hits home," she said.

2. Study historical figures or literary characters

Prompt students to think about how they present themselves online — and what it means to leave a digital footprint — by creating fake social media profiles for the characters they're studying in history or English classes.

"If Lincoln had a Twitter feed, what would he tweet? Get students to think about how these characters might present themselves online," Mendoza said. "Reframe social media to look at how the characters might have exemplified themselves in a digital world and how it might have impacted them."

Add another dimension to this activity by using characters that have two very distinct sides to their personalities, such as Jekyll and Hyde.

"It helps them think about how sometimes people present themselves online in a whole different way than they really are in person and why we might share things about ourselves that might not really be in line with who we are in person."

3. Research a project

If a project requires students to perform research online, help them develop information literacy skills by introducing effective search strategies and discussing how to determine whether a website is credible.

Want to learn more strategies for weaving digital citizenship into your curriculum? Take our self-paced Digital Citizenship Academy.

Kelly Mendoza manages professional development for Common Sense Media's education programs. Learn more from her webinar on "Empowering Our Students to Be Digital Citizens."