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Who’s teaching digital citizenship?

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Date posted: February 7, 2013

A few years ago, there was a major focus on Internet safety education, as if protecting kids from online predators and pornography were all that was needed for children to safely and effectively surf the Web. Today, much more attention is being paid to other areas of digital citizenship, for example responsible, ethical behavior and digital literacy. That is reflected in the results of two polls Cable in the Classroom released today.

We think of digital citizenship as a positive and proactive approach to helping children use digital tools safely and effectively, bringing together Internet safety and security with digital literacy, responsible, ethical behavior and civic engagement.

GirandMomCommissioned by Cable in the Classroom (CIC) and conducted by Harris Interactive the Parent Views on Digital Citizenship survey polled 999 US parents with children aged 8 to 18. In the survey, nine of ten parents think it’s very important or important that their children learn about the three elements of digital citizenship: Internet safety and security (93%), ethical and responsible online behavior (93%), and critical thinking (87%). Because of parents’ unfamiliarity with digital media and information literacy, we used a longer explanation that included the term critical thinking.

However, there are considerable gaps between how important internet safety, online ethics and responsibility, and critical thinking are to parents and how knowledgeable they feel they are about them. Eight in ten parents would like to have more information and guidance about one or more of the elements of digital citizenship.

The survey also showed that, as children get older, parents felt learning ethical, responsible behaviors and critical thinking became more important. Parents of elementary and middle school students are most concerned with their child learning the principles of Internet safety and security, compared to other aspects of digital citizenship; 74% say that it is very important that their child learns about Internet safety and security, compared to 68% who say this about ethical and responsible online behavior and 58% who say this about critical thinking. Parents of high school freshmen and sophomores are more likely than those of juniors and seniors to say that it is very important that their child learns about ethical and responsible online behavior (73% vs. 57%).

Cable in the Classroom’s online poll of more than 2,000 educators, Teacher Views on Digital Citizenship showed similar trends. A majority of educators think their schools or districts do not emphasize the elements of digital citizenship enough. Librarians and technology directors are noticeably more apt to believe this. Educators are also more likely to think it is not emphasized enough the higher the grade level (elementary, middle, high) that they teach.

Less than 40% feel very well prepared to teach digital citizenship. Librarians and tech directors (45% each) are more likely to feel very well prepared than are teachers (38%) or administrators (33%). And responsibility for teaching digital citizenship is spread across a wide range of positions. Educators felt the needed more help teaching ethics and responsibility and digital literacy than Internet safety and most wanted teaching materials (curricula, lesson plans, etc.) and professional development.

It is encouraging to see other elements of digital citizenship getting as much attention as Internet safety. If we want children to grow into safe, effective, ethical and responsible users of digital technology, ready for full participation in the 21st century workforce, society, and government they need to experience the full range of digital citizenship education.

Cable in the Classroom has been advocating for digital citizenship education for a long time. Informed by the findings of these surveys, we have begun production of a series of videos and curricular materials to help teachers learn about and teach digital citizenship topics. The videos and support materials will be available, free of charge, beginning in late spring.

Learn more about digital citizenship here. After February 11th, see a recording of the webinar research presentation here.

Photo: Microsoft Office Clip Art