Might you entertain me for just 15 seconds? Close your eyes and think of the words “digital citizenship.” I know this might sound corny… but just imagine a full 15 seconds to close your eyes. That sounds nice, doesn’t it?
What came up as you let “digital citizenship” permeate your thoughts? Was it an image of Internet safety or warnings of stranger danger? Did you think about students incessantly “snapping” each other? Did cyberbullying enter your thoughts?
Or, did you think about physical, mental, and social-emotional health and wellness related to technology use?
Chances are, many of you considered a topic from the first grouping. Online safety, social media use, and cyberbullying are among the topics that have, for years, comprised the digital citizenship repertoire. And while digital health and welfare is included on Mike Ribble’s longstanding list of 9 digital citizenship elements (2004), this aspect has not been prioritized to the same degree as other dig cit elements.
When we think about everything that “responsible and ethical technology use” entails, it makes sense that some aspects are prioritized at different times according to what seems most pressing and timely. To that end, the term “digital citizenship” and its meaning have gone through somewhat of an evolution since the early 2000s, in line with the evolution of technology in the classroom. I wrote about that in a previous blog post. The gist is that as technology was first entering the classroom, digital citizenship was geared toward “risk management” while more recently, a more positive and opportunity-based idea of digital citizenship has emerged. This 2.0 version empowers students to learn and connect with others digitally. The shift is evident in the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students.
Now another dig cit shift is bubbling that emphasizes digital health & wellness as an important outcome for all citizens. Lately, the media has flooded our news streams with stories and articles that relate to the (real or potential) physical, mental, and social-emotional effects of screen time, social media use, and video game play. Plenty of academics, physicians, and mental health professionals are trying to determine if our device use and certain digital behaviors are detrimental to our well-being. Honestly, much of the research has (to this point) brought about more questions than answers, but the priority is clear. It seems we can all agree that technology use has changed our habits, behaviors, and communication patterns and that new access to information and social connections has resulted in new triggers for both positive and negative emotions. Therefore, if feels “right” to emphasize the importance of mental and social-emotional wellness associated with technology use. It also feels “right” to consider wellness a primary goal for all digital citizens.
I would argue that as educators, we need to advocate for a more deliberate focus on digital health & wellness in both K-12 and teacher preparation. To strengthen this aspect, I propose two additional ideas.
Dig Cit and SEL
First, we can integrate digital citizenship into social emotional learning (SEL) initiatives. CASEL describes SEL as a process to “understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (2018). What if we simply added "in digital spaces" here? What if we simply drew more attention to incorporating digital participation in our SEL efforts with students? I imagine we can help them transfer these concepts to digital spaces. I imagine we can help students build resiliency and empathy both IRL (in real life) and online.
More Mindfulness, Less Mindlessness
Second, we can introduce digital mindfulness as an approach to help students reflect and build consciousness around their digital actions and associated levels of wellness. To be clear, I'm not speaking of practicing yoga and meditation in the classroom (although I wouldn't be opposed to that either, but that's a whole other conversation). Rather, I'm talking about helping students become aware of habitual and mindless scrolling, snapping, searching, and social media-ing (I know that's not a word, but I like alliteration). I'm talking about mind-ful-ness in terms of being aware and present while interacting with technology and recognizing associated thoughts and emotions to make more conscious decisions about technology use. I'm talking about the antithesis of mindlessness.
One way to prompt these conversations with students is to share images associated with technology use. Dr. Kristen Mattson has written about using digital citizenship images as bell-ringers and offers a fantastic curated list of images linked from this blog post.
Today, more than ever before, wellness is a prominent goal for most Americans. We are all striving to feel good and be the “best versions of ourselves” so that we may better serve others. With increasing focus on technology’s impact on our physical, mental, and social-emotional health, digital citizenship is important for all students... where wellness is a goal, and mindfulness is a value.
P.S. How are you practicing or promoting digital health and wellness? What are some other ways we can help our students and each other practice healthy digital use? I'd love to hear from you!
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I care deeply about helping educators cultivate healthy environments where every student and teacher can learn, grow, and thrive in this digital world!