Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Digital Citizenship with Social Media: Participatory Practices of Teaching and Learning in Secondary Education

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Digital Citizenship with Social Media: Participatory Practices of Teaching and Learning in Secondary Education

Article excerpt

The perception of internet risks and the need for digital citizenship

Digital citizenship is once again in the news, as parents, teachers, administrators and schools embrace the notion of teaching students about media literacy and safe and responsible internet use. Recently, spurred by the perceived dangers of online life, including cyberbullying, sexting, harmful contact, and other psychological or physical threats, states such as Washington, California, Texas and others have proposed or passed legislation calling for formal education that instructs students about how to use information technology effectively in order to maintain student safety, privacy, and health and well-being. While internet researchers instruct us to value the benefits from internet use (Livingstone & Brake, 2010), sensational stories are often quite persuasive, such as the Slenderman story. In 2014, two 12-year old girls lured a friend into the rural Wisconsin forest, stabbing her 19 times in an attempt to impress Slenderman, a fictitious character who appears online and in internet memes (Gretter et al., in press). The girls were taken in by Slenderman's persuasive online presence, and according to authorities, convinced his followers they needed to kill somebody in order to earn his respect. Fortunately, the victim survived the brutal attack, though the dangers of life online were again exposed.

Sensational (if truthful) accounts such as these contribute to the need to teach K-12 students the media literacy skills that will keep them safe online. Washington's proposal was supported by Common Sense Media, which is one of the leaders in the field, providing 76% of all public schools in the U.S. with digital citizenship curricula. This popular digital citizenship package teaches students a variety of topics, including internet safety, privacy and security, information literacy, and cyberbullying and digital drama (see www.commonsense.org). The risks to young people are real, even if most adolescents will thankfully never find themselves trying to appease a character like Slenderman. Livingstone and Brake (2010) reported that 72% of young people in the U.S. aged 12-17 had been bullied in the past year, suggesting the need for young people to learn effective strategies to remain safe online.

While recognizing the value of these programs and curricula, we suggest that there is a need for digital citizenship curricula to emphasize the real-life experience, values, and personal interests and engagements of young people themselves. Influenced by scholars from political science, communication, and education (Bennett, 2008; Tufekci & Wilson, 2012; Freelon et al., 2016; Greenhow et al., 2009) who recognize how networked communications technology (e.g., social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and others) supports new forms of citizenship that are increasingly participatory, driven by expressions of identities, and linked to changing conceptions of literacy, we see the need for a new model of digital citizenship enabled by the affordances of social media.

This paper contributes to a growing field of research that seeks to explore the dimensions and possibilities of young people's digital citizenship facilitated by digital and social media. To that end, it suggests two important contributions: (1) a connection between out-of-school social media practices with in-school traditional citizenship curricula, organizations, and models of community change; (2) it seeks to leverage the affordances of social media (i.e., its very socialness) to suggest a model that validates, and perhaps even prioritizes, the social values and identities of young people as they develop citizenship practices. That is, that as young people develop their own political networks and followers, attend social protests on livestream (#StandWithWendy), and contribute to community service projects (i.e., raising money for community issues), they are participating in a new form of digital citizenship enacted through digital (e. …

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