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By Brad Ovenell-Carter, Assistant Head of School
At THINK Global School we learn not about the world; we learn in the world. And part of that world is digital.
I say “part of” because making the usual distinction between the so-called real and virtual worlds is misleading. It misleads us to thinking that the two are somehow different and that in turn leads us to acting differently ourselves and to holding different expectations of others depending on where we happen to be–in a chatroom or chatting in a room. I’m not being naive; there are obvious differences between the two media. But cultivating digital citizenship is to my thinking just an extension of cultivating our citizenship in general.
The Case for Digital Citizenship
That same, artificial distinction between real and online experiences also tends to focus the discussion on internet safety. That’s important, to be sure, especially at TGS where we borrow our internet connections from so many different host cities and schools. We can’t really control web access and there are sound reasons for not wanting to in high school anyway. A BBC report, for example, says students “given a greater degree of freedom to surf the internet at school are less vulnerable to online dangers in the long-term…” I’ve had first-hand experience in the effectiveness of this approach.
But it’s important to see this as just one part of a comprehensive program for teaching digital citizenship, like the one below that we use at TGS (adapted from Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship.) Take away the word “digital” and you’ll notice that these look a lot like we’re teaching good old-fashioned citizenship.
- Digital etiquette – electronic standards of conduct or procedure. These are taught through example and guidance. Initially, all our work will be in Spot, the web platform built for TGS. This allows teachers to see student communications, to give guidance and to model good etiquette.
- Digital communication – electronic exchange of information. TGS students have access to a wide array of tools (e.g. email, sms, video, chat and so on) and devices (e.g. iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro laptop) giving them practice making appropriate decisions about which tools to use for the most effective communication in different situations.
- Digital literacy – process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology. Digital literacies are integrated directly into the various disciplines. For example, in their World Literature classes the students learn to use a wiki to make a custom textbook. In science they’ll collaborate with students in Canada on Skype and in Global Studies they will use MIT’s groundbreaking Scratch programming tool to create an interactive virtual tour of Sweden’s Riksdag, or parliament.
- Digital access – full electronic participation in society. TGS provides equal access to digital resources to all its students as a matter of practicalities but also as a matter of principle. Equal access is a condition and right of citizenship.
- Digital commerce – electronic buying and selling of goods. Students are given guidance in and responsibilities for being effective consumers online. They will for example, participate in evaluating applications and good purchased by the school.
- Digital law – electronic responsibility for actions and deeds. TGS’s position here is unique as we work in three different legal jurisdictions each year. Students as well as staff are briefed on local laws during an orientation session in each host city. Beyond this, TGS adheres strictly to the ideas behind Creative Commons licensing and principles of intellectual property. The discussion of law and ethics is explicit and ongoing at TGS.
- Digital rights and responsibilities – those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world. These are the things protected by law and ethics. TGS students have a right to such things as privacy and free speech, just as they do in the so-called real world. They also have a right to freedom from persecution and harassment. Conversely, they have an obligation to behave civilly online, just as they would face-to-face.
- Digital health and wellness – physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world. TGS is a wired school with laptops and iPhones for bricks and Spot, our web platform, for mortar. We are well-aware of the risk of becoming unhealthily dependent on our technology, both physical and psychologically. Students are encouraged and expected to balance sedentary online activity with regular physical exercise, games, and social gatherings. We will be out and about with iExplore programs. We even have a regular silent retreat scheduled where staff and students will unplug.
- Digital security and personal safety – electronic precautions to guarantee safety. Students are taught the fundamental skills of online security. They learn how to back up their data and register with web sites safely. They also learn some essential techniques for evaluating the authenticity of web sites and such things as join requests in Facebook and other social media.