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Teaching students to be good citizens online

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Being a good digital citizen doesn’t just happen; it takes effort on the part of educators, parents and peers. (Courtesy)

I learned some new words this week including “finsta” and “crowdturfing.” You may already know what these words mean — but in case you don’t, let me give you a hint — they are part of an emerging vocabulary related to Digital Citizenship.

SFUSD educators know that being safe and successful in the digital world is now essential knowledge. We aim to guide students to make good decisions while using the powerful technology that permeates their lives. That’s why this past week seventy schools across the City taught lessons related to Digital Citizenship.

More than half of those schools have reached the standard for Digital Citizenship set by Common Sense Media. This means they commit to raise awareness of safe, responsible, and appropriate online behaviors by incorporating multiple lessons throughout the school year. We hope to double the number of certified schools before the next Digital Citizenship Week next year.

What does teaching digital citizenship look like?

We start as early as kindergarten. Our students play a simple game called Going Places Safely, where they discover that the internet can be used to visit far-away places and learn new things, and that staying safe online is like staying safe in the real world. There are some good basic rules for children to stay safe while traveling on the internet. For example, don’t meet up in person with someone you meet online, and think carefully before you post something.

For older students we promote in-depth activities about cyberbullying. In one lesson, called “Upstanding,” students discuss what it means to be brave and stand up for others offline and online. They learn to show empathy for those who have been cyberbullied and generate multiple strategies to intervene when peers need help.

By the time our students reach high school, digital tools are essential to accessing information and building knowledge. However, given the “alternative facts” littered across the internet, we spend time teaching our students to be critical consumers of the material on the screen in front of them. Who is the author? What is their point of view? Who is the intended audience? Where was it published and in what medium? When was it written? Are valid sources cited?

This bring me back to finsta (a fake Instragram account) and crowdturfing (fake consumer reviews). Our students need to be able to separate fact from fiction when they see it online now more than ever.

Ready for the world

We have a set of competencies we want all students to possess by the time they graduate, including readiness to tackle a changing world. This includes understanding new technologies and navigating in an interconnected 21st Century global society.

Many of the lessons and activities we work with at SFUSD related to Digital Citizenship are shared with us by an organization called Common Sense Media. If you have children in your life whom you’re helping to guide through the digital world, I encourage you to check out their helpful tools online. You may also head to StaySafeOnline.org to keep learning about how to be a safe and responsible user of digital resources.

Being a good digital citizen doesn’t just happen; it takes effort on the part of educators, parents and peers — just like it takes effort to be good citizens offline.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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