Web Awareness I

Digital Citizenship is a big deal to me. I plan on incorporating a lot of internet use into my lessons wherever I end up teaching, and I feel that in many ways (as a self-proclaimed denizen of the internet and also as a teacher) that it falls under my purview to make sure that my students are practicing safe surfing. The problem of course, is where do I start? It’s such a broad topic that setting out to address these matters is far from a small undertaking. I think that first and foremost that an immersion in the internet in class is crucial. It’s not simply a matter that can be brought up as a lesson one day and then left at that; unlike long division or potential gravitational energy theory, it’s a societal issue and one that deserves long-lasting attention. By suffusing these ideals throughout the length of a semester, it will be easier to ingrain positive web ideals into our students.

I think that a set of rules for internet use is crucial for within the classroom, and even more so that there’s discussion around them by the students to make sure that there is understanding there as to the reasoning behind them as well as the outlines of the rules themselves. By understanding the reasoning, the students should be more likely to practice safe internet use even when it’s not in the classroom.

I also think that using case studies and real-world examples are important because it makes these things more relatable to students when they see that there are consequences. There will always be that aspect of “it always happens to someone else” that must be combated, but that’s never going to entirely go away.

The way that I feel is the best way to present the matter of others online is to break it up into three categories:

  • The people that you know online and in real life – Friends from school, family
  • The normal people just like you online – Fellow users of Twitter, Facebook, Reddit
  • The people who are out to harm you online – phishing, predators, viruses, thieves

There can be overlaps, and these are very broad topics, but these can be broken down into further discussion discussion about the implications of the things that we say and do online, from writing a hurtful comment to providing enough information that someone could guess an online banking password.

Overall, the goal should be to get our students to think about what they’re putting online and how it affects them and those around them. There are tools such as this website to measure your “digital footprint” which can help to prove the point, but as long as our students at least consider what they’re doing online, then it’s a step in the right direction. (Pun intended.)

On the topic of filtering school websites, I’m pretty much against it. I recognize the good that can come of them, but I also know that there are times when I’ve found perfectly innocuous websites that are banned for some reason under the school district. I also feel that there comes a level of freedom of speech and respect for choice with it. I agree that many websites are not appropriate for school, but as McKenzie (1996) states, “When is it permissible, if ever, to shape the flow of information to support certain “truths” over others?” There should be consequences when students blatanly misuse school internet services, but there can also be potential teaching applications in many blocked websites. Also there’s the question of, “When has hiding something from children ever effectively saved them from it?”

Cyber-bullying is its own giant can of worms, although just like offline bullying, it ties back to many other means of respecting others, but with an added element of anonymity and the power that comes with it online. In many ways, that illusion of power is what causes so many online problems and addressing it is one of the best things that we can do for teaching web awareness.

In regards to being a teacher, our online presences can really be summed up succinctly (in my opinion) as follows: Be professional. When anyone is working in the public eye, we need to keep the appearance of professionalism by necessity. We’re all individuals and we all have images that we want to uphold, often different ones to different audiences, but as professionals, we also need to act like professionals. An unfortunate example of the consequences are the recent events surrounding Calgary MLA Deborah Drever. (http://globalnews.ca/news/2012342/controversial-calgary-mla-suspended-from-ndp-caucus/) In order to teach our students web safety, we need to recognize it in our own practices first. (I mean, I suppose you don’t have to, but then we’d just be hypocrites.)

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