Moralism and Digital Citizenship

Posted on October 16, 2015. Filed under: cultural, digital citizenship, Eci832, educational, Masters, online safety, parents, Social Networking, teaching and learning, Technology |

After reading Jason Ohler’s Character Education for the Digital Age, I was intrigued by the idea of moralism in schools. He explains that before the 1960’s, it was common to teach moralism in schools.  Post modernism enters, and “what’s right for you may not be right for me” comes into play. We are now in a place where no explicit moralism is taught in public schools, but we still know that each teacher is teaching their idea of right and wrong. It’s the hidden curriculum after all!

In his article, Jason Ohler suggests that there is still a place for teaching moralism when it comes to digital citizenship.  I know I believe there is a right and wrong thing to be doing online at school.  If we truly believe that students aren’t living two separate lives: a school life and a home life, then teachers can play a part in shaping the student’s moral compass when it comes to online behaviour.

Jason Ohler has 5 digital citizenship issues that are easily addressed in the classroom:

Balance. Understanding past, present, and possible future effects of technology. Cultivating a sense of balance that considers opportunity as well as responsibility, empowerment as well as caution, personal fulfillment as well as community and global well-being.

I like that he addresses the past and future of technology. We can’t look forward without looking back to where we have come from and the technological advances we have seen thus far. When classrooms only used slates/chalk and quills/ink, I imagine there would have been some very upset people at the prospect of moving beyond that. It was probably the way things had always been done, and it was opening these children up to the new “horrors” of technology. To me this parallels what I am seeing with some parents now.  This year I had a parent send me an article that basically says technology is one of the causes of mental health issues in children. Some parents still believe there isn’t a place for technology use in schools.

I also like that Ohler addresses the future, as we do not know what jobs/careers the next generation will have. We have no idea what technology will look like, and in what ways it will play into people’s day to day lives. I think he offers wise advise when he suggests “cultivating a sense of balance that considers opportunity as well as responsibility.” Without that balance, the pendulum swings too hard one way or the other.

Safety and security. Understanding how online actions might lead to harm to yourself or others. Includes protecting your own privacy, respecting that of others, and recognizing inappropriate online communications and sites (such as sexual material and other resources intended for adults).


Photo credit: Eric Constantineau

Though teachers should be teaching digital citizenship and technology as a tool for learning throughout their practice, not everyone is that comfortable.  If a teacher is wanting to find a way to teach a digital citizenship “unit,” the health curriculum is a perfect way to do that.  Digital safety ties so well into the Health curriculum’s safety outcomes.

Students need to understand how vast and awesome the internet is, but they also need to understand how to navigate through it safely. I don’t think I would show the video below to my primary age students, but I think it might be good for middle year’s students to watch this social experiment:

The ease at which these children are willing to meet with strangers is terrifying.  In my opinion, children need to hear from their parents and teachers about how to be safe.

Cyberbullying. Understanding the potentially devastating effects of cyberbullying and how it violates ethical principles of personal integrity, compassion, and responsible behaviour.

There is a great online game from Digizen that helps you learn about and scores you on digital citizenship. It plays through a cyber bullying scenario and you have to make decisions based on your friend’s actions.

Bullying can happen at any age, and though my students aren’t as active online as some of the older students in my school, cyberbullying can be addressed in any grade.  It won’t be long before my young students will start messaging each other through their phones/iPods/iPads. In fact, since I have been using Twitter in the classroom, I have seen a rise in how many grade ones/twos have their own Twitter account. This is not something that I have encouraged them to do, but at least a few of my students every year ask their parents if they can have their own Twitter handle… and they get one! I’m not saying this is good or bad, the fact of the matter is that these students ARE ALREADY on social media, or WILL BE SOON.

There has been a push to address bullying in schools the past few years, and though that’s great, Stephen Carrick Davies (former CEO of Childnet) makes it very clear in this short video that we can’t forget to include cyber bullying in those conversations.

Sexting. Understanding the negative consequences of using a cell phone to take and transmit pictures of a sexual nature of oneself or others.


Photo Credit: Mike Licht

Our society is getting more and more ok with nudity/sexual content/pornagraphy in general.  Sexual pictures are becoming commonplace, and people are more open to the idea of taking/posting pictures of themselves naked, or close to naked.

For example, a couple years ago I was at a girl’s night out get together where there were about 20 women ages 20-30. Some of the ladies were playing a drinking game called Never Have I Ever. How the game works is that one person says a statement, and anyone who has done what the first player has not, has to drink.  One of the women said, “I have never taken a nudie.” (I’m not even sure if that is spelled correctly! I feel so old!) And every one of the girls playing the game drank. I was kind of shocked. Looking back, I am surprised at a few things: 1) That every single gal there has taken or transmitted a naked picture of them self. 2) That these types of pictures are commonplace enough that everyone felt comfortable admitting to it by drinking. 3) That something/someone in their life has encouraged these women to openly exploit themselves with such pictures.

If sexual pictures are being taken and sent with such ease by adult women, I can only imagine what is happening at the pre-teen/teen age.

Feeling brave? Take the poll!

Copyright and plagiarism. Respecting others’ intellectual property rights and reflecting on the legality and ethics of using online materials without permission (a complex and murky area of the law, bounded by “fair use” guidelines).

At the U of R, plagiarism is unacceptable. If you are caught plagiarizing, you are at risk of losing your place as a student and erasing your academic standing. This “tough on crime” attitude is a must in such a high level of education.  What would happen if we adopted such high standards for our elementary and high schools?  Is it that easy? Where does copyright law fit into student assignments? It may sound cut and dry, but it’s not.

In fact, just this week I was informed that I was impinging upon copyright laws! I received this email from Pinterest:

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 1.17.06 AM copy

When I tried to click on the link, it was broken! So I literally don’t even know which pin was removed! How many times does this happen with students? We can teach them how to cite and how to give credit, but like Uhler says, “it is a complex and murky area of the law.” Sometimes we are breaking copyright without even knowing it!

I have enough trouble teaching primary students how to even search for an image, is it reasonable to try and get them to find a creative commons image on top of that? Obviously we need to teach students about plagiarism and copyright, I’m not denying that… I’m just admitting that I don’t have all the answers on HOW to do that just yet!

Jason Uhler sums up digital citizenship into those 5 issues. I offered some ideas of how I think these can be incorporated into classrooms. There may be a time where teachers are not going to have the platform to share with students what things they should or shouldn’t do digitally, so until then, I hope to try and instil some of the ways I think they can be digitally responsible and… hope for the best!

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