Tips for modeling responsible tech use and critical thinking.

teacher helping two students

We often hear from educators who feel like they don't have the time to address digital citizenship in their classrooms. With an already overloaded to-do list of annual teaching objectives, setting aside a week (or even a day) to focus on responsible technology use -- let alone making time to plan those extra lessons -- feels challenging.

Shouldn't these skills be taught in homeroom? Or by the media specialist during library time? Sure, many schools find integrating digital citizenship as a stand-alone program within those classes works well and allows for clear and measurable implementation school-wide. However, digital citizenship skills don't have to be presented as targeted lessons. They can also be integrated into our everyday teaching.

Here are three ways to make digital citizenship part of how we teach, rather than a thing set apart:

Highlight research and media-literacy skills.

Research is an essential skill for learning across general and subject-based classrooms. As most student research today starts with a Google or Wikipedia search, how do we help students identify credible information online? Skills like fact-checking, reading around the page, or using reverse image search can help students build a toolkit of solid research skills.

In addition, try introducing students to the SEARCH strategy to support research across all content areas:

  • S: Select research questions and search tools. Have one or more questions that get to the core of what you want to find out in your search. Also, choose search engines and tools most relevant to what you're looking for.
  • E: Extract keywords and terms. You can find effective keywords by highlighting the key terms from your research questions.
  • A: Apply search strategies, such as adding quotation marks or a minus sign or specifying the type of information you need.
  • R: Run your search. Run a search on the terms you've chosen and review the results. Remember, you should check out multiple sources.
  • CH: Chart your search. Avoid repeating work you've already done by jotting down what you’ve searched for and where you’ve searched for it.

Establish norms for communication in collaborative environments.

Many classrooms use collaborative tools to create classroom assignments, work on group projects, and provide feedback. Tools like Microsoft OneNote, Google Drive, and others create feedback spaces that can be more direct, untethered from the school day, and accessible in real time. As we set expectations for how our students communicate in the classroom, we should reinforce these ideas within their interactive, collaborative online learning spaces. Establishing norms for communication both online and in class supports expectations more consistently.

As an added layer of learning, consider encouraging any feedback students give online to be given in person during the next class period. If students feel uncomfortable giving feedback in person, they should reassess whether their online comments were appropriate.

Model digital citizenship on social media.

One of the best ways to teach digital citizenship skills in your classroom is to be a role model through your approach to technology use. Both school-based and public social media tools offer a great platform for role-modeling. If you're using an online discussion tool like TodaysMeet or Backchannel Chat, keep an eye on the conversations so you can interject to address misuse. When you share an online article with your students, walk them through how you determined the credibility of that piece before you posted it.

For educators looking to explore how students might use open social media platforms for learning, consider setting up an approval process for tweets, snaps, and general posts through a collaborative online document. Or you might look into tools like Class Intercom to allow students to generate posts for school social accounts that are gated for review before they post live. Modeling these practices consistently can help set a new norm for how our school communities use social media tools.

Addressing digital citizenship in a stand-alone curriculum or set of lessons is great, but it may not be possible for many educators. By keeping these skills at the top of your mind and weaving them into your everyday instruction, you can make digital citizenship part of the classroom culture and help students establish better habits in school and at home.

Merve L.

Merve Lapus is the Vice President, Education Outreach. He is responsible for the overall outreach strategy and national partnerships for Common Sense Education and oversees a team that works directly with leadership to impact communities using technology for learning and life. Collaborating with school networks, state-level organizations, community leaders, and national partners, Merve is committed to fostering a whole-community approach to digital well-being, and establishing supportive learning spaces for all children and families to thrive in a world with media and technology. Merve has over 17 years of experience driving education technology initiatives across school programs, and building educator confidence through professional learning, and strategic implementation. Merve sits on a number of steering committees addressing school climate and state policy initiatives, and currently sits on the Marketing and Communications Board for the University of San Francisco and the Children’s Creativity Museum of San Francisco.