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What You Need to Know About Digital Literacy and Citizenship Application in Class

It wasn’t so long ago that people could verify the amount of money in their savings accounts by checking the entries the banker made in their passbook.

Thanks to technology, savings passbooks are (nearly) a relic of the past. Automated teller machines permits us access our money without any human interaction and online banking allows us to move money between accounts – our own and our creditors.

Remember online banking – how futuristic it sounded, a mere 26 years ago? It was only an option, back then. Sometimes, the banks charged a fee for online account access. These days, the service is ubiquitous and, usually, free.

Financial institutions were, in a sense, the canary in the coal mine insofar as converting civic functions from analogue to digital. Other services were slow to offer online access. Even now, it’s impossible to curate certain aspects of our civil lives via the ‘net.

That doesn’t mean we’re exempt from digital citizenship, nor does it suggest that we needn’t teach our students acceptable and responsible digital civic participation.

Digital citizenship refers to how people conduct themselves online.

Just as we wouldn’t advertise our vulnerabilities in public, our students must learn to keep themselves safe online. It’s not acceptable to walk around hurling insults at passersby; neither should bullying and offensive behaviour be tolerated online.

But there’s so much more to digital literacy and citizenship.

In our classrooms, we help our youngest citizens learn how to function in society – how to share and get along with each other. With older students, we talk about finding one’s place in the world. Now, we must also help them learn how to navigate the digital world by teaching about specific aspects of digital culture.

Digital Literacy and Access

Digital literacy is defined as the ability to find, assess and disseminate information on digital platforms through text, images and audio files. These competencies are measured much the same way as other literacies, namely through composition, grammar, execution skills and so on.

Digital access represents users’ ability and willingness to participate in digital citizenship, and to what degree they choose to do so. For instance, a digital citizen may avail themselves of online banking but not social media.

Digital Law, Rights and Responsibilities

Strangely enough, this might be the aspect of digital citizenship that students are most familiar with. After all, only the most foolhardy of students would copy someone else’s work and pass it off as their own.

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are the two most renowned aspects of this category of digital citizenship. Others include access control technologies, such as whether a utility is open-source or accessible only for limited use, licensing agreements that allow usage of existing media for specific purposes, and encryption that limits the reproduction of published materials.

As for the rights and responsibilities of digital citizenship, we might consider learning about and upholding digital laws, not engaging in targeted harassment and other matters of etiquette standard in society as falling under this banner.

Digital Health and Wellness

Every so often, we read stories about internet-addicted youths and how they’re weaned off of their favourite platforms in digital detox camps. We’re no strangers to crazy stunts that lead straight to the emergency room, either. Tik Tok challenge, anyone?

And then, there’s the darker side of social media. More than one student has been bullied to death; even now, an unknown number silently suffer online abuse.

Of course, there are less ominous aspects of digital health and wellness to consider, such as limiting one’s time online, turning off devices 30 minutes before bedtime and leaving phones and tablets in another room when it’s time to sleep.

Another major component of digital wellness is security. Not just keeping devices secure but also securing personal information and passwords, and not falling prey to scammers and bad actors.

These should not be individual efforts. As the term digital citizenship implies, every user has the responsibility to protect not just themselves but every other netizen. That could entail anything from reporting scams and perpetrators to proactively defending oneself and others from them.

Our students engaged in digital activity even before their first day of school. They did so without any knowledge of the concepts that define digital literacy, or any clue that they were making their first forays into digital citizenship. They learned quite a bit through trial and error.

By the time they enter our classrooms, most of those digital natives can operate a phone or tablet and have distinctive preferences that guide their interactions online. However, they know virtually nothing of their obligations and privileges as digital citizens, nor are they aware of the potential dangers.

Barring some cataclysmic event that regresses society to a time when technology was limited to analogue electronic devices, digital citizenship is society’s way forward. Every aspect of civic life, from job applications and interviews to government and financial services will transact in the digital realm.

Much of it already does.

Even education is increasingly trending toward remote learning; that was made obvious during the pandemic.

As students are exposed to more digital learning resources, we must teach them how to be digitally literate and what responsible digital citizenship is. That could be anything from lessons on the right time to use emojis and digital slang to staging debates over privacy laws.