Survey Shows Teachers, Administrators Aware of the Need for Digital Citizenship Education, Points to Gaps

February 28, 2012
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Professional Development, Research & Studies

The stories have the makings of a great spy thriller: business people removing the battery on their loaner phones during meetings in China to protect against cyber spies; the discovery that a thermostat in a corporate office was secretly connected to the Internet and funneling trade secrets to the Chinese. But these anecdotes are not fiction. Such is life in our hyperconnected, spy-friendly world.

While kids don't have to worry about corporate spies quite yet, they do have to be aware that the Internet is not always benign. Apps and Facebook and many other popular sites are regularly mining data, and privacy issues are still being hammered out. Piracy and illegal downloads are common. Oversharing can be used by third parties in unknown ways. While parents worry about "stranger danger" online, they might do better to teach their kids about these more pedestrian concerns.

Learning about the things that can go wrong, and learning to be a good digital citizen, are two of the best ways to prevent embarrassment, or at its worst, disaster. Teachers and parents are at the front lines of this form of defense, helping their students and children navigate the online frontier. If a recent survey is any indication, there’s good news and bad to report on this front.

A survey earlier this spring by Stay Safe Online of teachers, administrators, and technology specialists in schools across the country points to the growing awareness about the importance of teaching kids to be good digital citizens. But it also points to some sizable gaps as well.

The State of Cyberethics, Cybersafety and Cybersecurity Curriculum survey included a representative group of 402 school administrators (principals and superintendents), 1,012 teachers, and 200 technology coordinators at K-12 private and public schools across the United States. The National Cyber Security Alliance has tested the attitudes of K-12 schools on digital safety, security, and ethics since 2008, and this was the latest edition.

It was difficult to find any information on the confidence interval of the survey in the 2011 report, but the original survey in 2008 reported a confidence level of 99 percent. Given the population and the confidence interval, in 2008 the researchers reported that the percentage of respondents should be within 4 percent of the answers that would have resulted if the entire U.S. teaching corps were surveyed. One can assume that the 2011 survey is similar in its confidence levels. In the 2011 survey, the margin of error was +/- 3.1 percentage points for teachers, +/- 7.1 for technology coordinators, and +/- 5.1 for administrators. 

Although there is nearly universal agreement among teachers that we should be teaching cyber ethics to kids, most teachers aren’t aware of any required curriculum in their school or district, according to survey results. Just over half of teachers polled say that their school does not require a cyber ethics curriculum, while nearly one in five weren’t sure one way or another. Only about one in three (29 percent) of the teachers surveyed said their district required such a curriculum. Results were similar for security and safety as well. Administrators might want to advertise the curriculum requirement a little more, as the majority (68 percent) reported that their district does require a cyber ethics curriculum. Of those teachers whose district offers a curriculum, just about half thought it was adequate.

The majority of teachers reported feeling confident in their ability to talk with students about issues like cyberbullying, online privacy protections, hate speech online, and sexting. About one in five felt unprepared. Another 3-5 percent were unsure. 

On average, about one-fourth of teachers had specifically taught a lesson in the last 12 months on cyber ethics, which included such things as dealing with web content that is frightening, respecting privacy, being courteous online, unauthorized hacking, illegally downloading materials, plagiarism, and dealing with posts that contain hate speech. The most popular topic, taught by nearly half of the teachers, was on plagiarism. Teaching about hacking and its consequences was the least popular (only 8 percent of teachers).  The share of educators teaching about safety online was slightly lower, and least frequently taught was the issue of security, perhaps because of its more technical nature.

The amount of time spent on the topics was minimal, however. Most teachers had spent less than 6 hours total in the last 12 months on the topic of cyber ethics, security, or safety. The limited amount of time points to the daily time constraints teachers face as they focus on preparing students to meet the No Child Left Behind standards.

Teachers are anxious to learn more. Almost two-thirds of teachers reported that learning more about these issues was important to their career development. And the majority (typically 78 percent) wanted to get their hands on more materials to help them learn about the topics and teach them.

We can help with that. Our curriculum has specific sections on safety, security, digital footprints, and more for all grade levels. And we offer both parents and teachers guidance on how to teach each topic. It offers parents, for example, tip sheets and videos, as well as homework activities for students and parents to do together. And music to most ears—it’s free. Here are some links to get you started:

And teachers—tell us what you think. Are you teaching cyber ethics and safety? If so, how, and how can we help you better?


Photo by Brad Flickinger.