Every week, EPIC Superintendent Bart Banfield explores topics related to education, learning, leadership and more. Be sure to check back each week for the latest.

Digital Citizenship

Technology is truly powerful. Aside from having access to the sum total of human knowledge from literally anywhere, we are able to connect and collaborate in ways that seemed impossible earlier in my lifetime. Hours of poring through a library’s card catalog in search of information have been replaced with a simple Google search. Passing notes in class has been overtaken by text messaging. Finding out what everyone is doing this weekend has been made easier by social media.

It’s been said that with great power comes great responsibility. And as the superintendent of the state’s largest virtual charter school, I am acutely aware of the pitfalls that can accompany a poor understanding of what constitutes good digital citizenship. At EPIC, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of using technology to better the lives of our students. It is the cornerstone of our educational model. Teaching our students how to be the best versions of themselves online is a big part of that.

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite suggestions for teaching the young person in your life how to be a productive and contributing member of digital society:

 1.   Establish a social media/mobile device contract

As adults, we know setting clear boundaries, understanding the consequences of our actions and treating people with respect is key. Setting those expectations (and setting them early) with your young person as they relate to their social media and mobile device behavior is just as important in their development as good study habits and eating healthy. Making a contract that outlines expectations for both of you and the consequences for not abiding by it will put everyone on the path to successful digital citizenship. There are many such sample contracts online. Feel free to customize your contract to meet your individual family needs.

2.   Encourage community engagement

There are so many wonderful distractions online. Who doesn’t love watching a cute kitten video on YouTube, after all? But there are also just as many ways to stay connected to legitimately helpful local resources designed to encourage safe and healthy behaviors. Your nearby community centers, police and health departments, libraries and schools likely have a litany of guidelines to help keep kids safe and engaged in good digital citizenship practices.

3.   Promote critical online thinking

Does it make sense to post this picture? Is this Facebook post offensive or hurtful? Encouraging this line of questioning as your young person engages online is a powerful tool in promoting strong digital citizenship. Further, it will help them in all aspects of their lives.

4.   Understand that mistakes will happen

Making mistakes is part of life. Minimizing them, learning from them and moving on is the best any of us can hope to do. Learning good digital citizenship is no different. When an online misstep happens, make sure your learner understands what went wrong, what (if any) consequences are there for their actions and what they need to do moving forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Remember, they are learning and each mistake is an opportunity for growth.

Good digital citizenship is really a mirror for the values and morals we, as a society, hold dear. Don’t steal (plagiarism), treat others as you want to be treated (respect), do no harm (kindness) and other universal tenets apply to our digital lives just as much as they do to the lives we live offline. By adhering to a few commonsense principles and putting them into day-to-day action, we are setting an example for the young people in our lives and making the world a better place.


Dare greatly,