Thursday, January 1, 2015

Digital Citizenship - Issues and Concerns in the modern on-line context

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

Whilst Donne and his contemporaries such as Marlowe, Jonson and Shakespeare may never imagined the social media dominated world which we find ourselves, they certainly could encapsulate the human condition in fine prose. The human condition pertains to avatars just as it does the analog self. That much has not changed.
Technology is a tool which we can use to improve our lives, to benefit others and to also degrade, humiliate and harm just like humanity has been doing for millennia, without the aid of computer technology. Social media definitely falls into that category and it is the modern educator's role to assist learners in the effective and ethical use of technologies in order to successfully navigate the murky and sometimes turbulent waters of the Internet and social media.
The stakeholders for any educator is the students, teaching colleagues, parents and the wider community and they must consider the specific needs and context of the learning community within which they operate. As Donne eloquently puts it "No man is an island entire of itself" and ethical, safe, responsible, respectful and legal use of information and technology is something which needs to be modelled and explicitly taught to our young chargers. Life-long learning, the modern catch cry, can only be successfully achieved if the learner is conversant in the issues and concerns of digital. The online well-being of our students is just as important as the well-being that exists in the face to face realm.
Rather than being Henny Penny and claim that all the world's ill and dangers are wrapped up in the devices which teenagers seems constantly attached to, modern educators need to ensure that they have a positive and informed attitude towards to the use of technology in order that learners to create, share, think, learn and grow. As a responsible adult you wouldn't ban a young person from going near any water until they were 13, 15, or 18 as they needed to be protected from drowning. I believe that the same principle applies to the digital world and social media. Of course, there are considerations of age appropriateness, but as an educator who works with teenagers even my youngest students have the right and NEED to be made aware of the all issues, pitfalls and positive aspects that the online world can offer.
Young people need to be aware of what constitutes ethical on line behaviour. They need to   understand the concepts of intellectual property and fair use/dealing. As a student enquired of me in a digital citizenship/ethical scholarship lesson one day - if we aren't meant to copy and paste why can we? Just because it is possible to drive over the speed limit in your car doesn't mean you should. When you explain to students that whilst you may be able to "rip off" the latest popular song and put it into your school project doesn't mean that you should. It is about being ethical. Doing the right thing. You might get away with it and then again you might not.
I have encouraged my students to seek permission and were thrilled when they were allowed to use the jingle for Minecraft in their presentation from the copyright holders. Students shouldn't be afraid to ask permission - and if they get a knock back they have still learnt the lesson.
 danah boyd's It's Complicated delves into the networked lives of modern teenagers but what struck me that most about listening to podcasts of interviews with her is that what she is really saying is that teenagers haven't really changed. They seek approval from their peers and are starting to differentiate themselves from their parents, they just want to hang out with their friends.  One of the comment boyd made which resonated with me is the culture of fear which prevents the modern teenager from physically hanging out with their friends in the same way kids of the 1970s and earlier were able to.  They have much less physical freedom and the technology is merely an enabler.  They can hang out online in ways that older generations never had to and have great difficulty in understanding. Boyd's concept of "context collapse" is also an interesting one in which everyone with an online presence must relate to.  In a sense it is very hard to navigate the online world as all they various contexts of you as a friend, school friends from the past, current colleague, previous colleague, current partner, ex-partner are all in the same space - and they all know a different side of "you" from the context they know you. The legal ramifications of an angry post or spiteful tweet are being felt in the courts and the evidence of these can be gathered and used in legal disputes is a scary reality but if the apposite arguments and lessons are taught to the students then the worst case scenarios which are used as the warning bells can be just an interesting anecdote rather than a reality. Digital citizenship is just one of the many forms of citizenship that exist in the modern world but I believe it to be the most important.  Access to the online world has rights and responsibilities and just as we wouldn't condone unaware and unlicensed drivers on our roads, nor should we allow our students to navigate the twist and turns of a world which they need to understand it is dangers as well as it benefits.  The independence that comes with that understanding, efficacy is just the same as having safe, legally responsible drivers who can enjoy the open road just as much as the next person.