Promoting Effective Digital Citizenship

by Jean Tower

I hear a lot about digital citizenship for our students, and I think we have to deal with effective digital citizenship for teachers, as well. Digital citizenship encompasses appropriate and responsible use of technology, and commonly includes topics such as communication, literacy, etiquette, rights and responsibilities, health and wellness, and security. I want to advocate that we should include understanding how to use social media within the communication strand.

Effective digital citizenship has to include social networking, and I’ve heard too many horror stories recently about teachers and Facebook, for example. The December – January issue of Learning and Leading with Technology (from ISTE) includes an article entitled, the Dark Side of Facebook. The article describes several recent cases in which teachers either lost their jobs or were put on administrative leave because of things they posted (or that other people posted about them) on Facebook. It’s a good article and worth reading. Teachers need to be very careful about their public online persona, and reading this article will help people to understand just how public Facebook is, regardless of their privacy settings.

I have a colleague in my school district, whose daughter is teacher, and started in a new school district this year. During the new teacher orientation, when people spoke about Facebook to her and the other new teachers, whatever they said frightened her to the extent that she closed her Facebook account totally.

In my point of view “just say no” is not a responsible and professional response. Instead, educators should cultivate an online persona, using LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, that they could show as part of their resume. Their online, digital footprint should be something they can be proud of and could point to as an asset to their profession.

80% of jobs that are advertised today are advertised only online. All perspective employers research candidates online – they check LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and they make judgments about whether they should hire someone or not. Like it or not, part of our lives is online. I’ve heard from recent college graduates, who did not know enough to clean up their Facebook profiles before applying for internships and graduate programs, and learned the hard way that their online digital footprint was hurting them rather than helping them. My point is that rather than opting out, I suggest that students and educators alike, leverage social media to highlight positive aspects of their studies and work.

Rather than canceling your Facebook account for fear of a costly misstep, use your Facebook account to showcase what’s best about you. But definitely think of it as an open forum. Always consider that the parents of your students or your principal or your superintendent could be reading your posts. Make sure that what you post would not be embarrassing if it were reprinted on the front page of the local newspaper. And some posts or tweets should be things that contribute positively to your school or town or students or to the profession in general. For example, there are some teachers I follow on Twitter, who share so many great resources and lesson plans, that I’m sure any principal who followed them would want to interview them for openings. @SimplySuzy (on twitter) is an educator in Massachusetts who uses Twitter in a way that builds her professional reputation. I know many educators, who use Facebook to share innocuous personal information, like books they’re reading, sports teams they are following, and hobbies they pursue. But in addition, they share educational links and resources.

The most effective users of social media, build a true learning community online, sharing resources and learning from others. They can post questions and pose problems in these social forums, and get back useful advice and resources very quickly.

So I think we’re doing educators a disservice if we scare them out of using social media. Instead, we should be encouraging educators to model effective use of social media, effective digital citizenship, for their students. Students today need to become adept in these media, and the more our teachers are involved and contributing in social media, the more competent they will be in guiding students.

Related posts:

Being Googleable

Social Media – Resources for Educators

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tania Sheko November 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Well said. You can use Facebook for so much more than family pics. It’s good to try different social networking platforms. We should be modeling more of this, and seeing for ourselves how social media can be used to build a positive online profile instead of imagining what dangers lurk within.

Jean Tower November 30, 2011 at 6:49 am

Tania – You make a good point about not dwelling only on the dangers!

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