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Grace Ting
grace.ting@ontariotechu.net
Ontario Tech University

Abstract

Young learners today are born with the Internet and are surrounded by technology. The prevalence of social media inside and outside of schools has raised concerns for parents and teachers due to their negative impacts on students, including cyberbullying and privacy issues. Students know how to use technology but do not know what is right or wrong and differentiate distorted from trustworthy facts. It is not uncommon for schools to implement policies to ban or limit the use of digital tools to improve behaviour and safety concerns. However, the Net Generation is born with technology, and digital media is a part of their lives. Limiting their activity on social media is avoidance instead of a solution to the problem. While the safety of students is important, excessive concern about the use of social media neglects the positive ways that students can leverage online platforms to become responsible digital citizens, increase awareness, and address critical social issues. Social media is not only a personal communication or expressive tool. It can extend to a much greater cause globally when used appropriately. Students can learn how to use social media safely and responsibly through digital citizenship (DC) education while extending digital platforms’ value. Although the merit of DC and the need to promote it has been recognized, leveraging social media in the curriculum to develop DC skills is lacking. Many studies have investigated DC specific to a particular age group. This chapter analyzes previous studies to provide an approach to DC development for students in all age groups, including K-higher education through social media facilitated curriculums.

Keywords

curriculum, digital citizenship, digital literacy, digital media, social media, technology 

Introduction

As students increasingly spend large amounts of time online, especially on social media, DC education is vital (Gleason & von Gillern, 2018; Martin et al., 2019; Saputra & Siddiq, 2020). According to Rideout and Fox (2018), over 81% of teens and young adults are daily users of social media. They must develop DC skills to participate responsibly and respectfully in the online space. Educators inevitably need to guide students in the process.

New media platforms emerge, and technologies constantly evolve (Tapscott, 2009). 21st century education is no longer confined to classrooms inside school buildings but in the real world, where real problems occur. Learning through reading and writing on paper in isolation disconnects students from reality. Students must be given opportunities to observe, ask questions, and verify information in authentic environments (Fullan, 2013) until they develop the skills they need to be independent (Vygotsky, 1978). Hence, the approach to developing DC through social media facilitated curriculums is presented.

The Rise of Digital Media

In the 20th century, media theorists McLuhan (1964) and Postman (1970) defined media as a place not only to transmit information but an environment for social interaction. Advancing to the 21st century, media has changed from newspapers, radio, and TV to the internet, social media, and smart devices (Lindgren, 2017). Technology and media change over time. However, respect, responsibility, and awareness of social values when using media do not change, and the foundation of DC (Ribble, 2021) is based on these timeless elements. 

Definition and Elements of Digital Citizenship 

The definition of DC varies depending on the person, field, or organization defining it and the changes in technology at the time. Ribble (2021) provides an interpretation of DC that applies to learners in all age groups and the media of any time: “…digital citizenship is the responsible use of technology to learn, create, and participate.” This section presents the essential elements of DC that apply to learners from K-higher education in connection with digital media.

Cyberbullying and Netiquette

Cyberbullying is defined as a person who has been deliberately and repeatedly harassed or harmed over digital devices such as cell phones, computers, or tablets (Cyberbullying Research Center, 2014). Cyberbullying can happen inside or outside school (Martin et al., 2019). Students must learn what to do when they are bullied or how to act when they witness others being bullied. Students must explore varying levels of online abuse and how to address unacceptable behaviours (James et al., 2021). Students must learn how they should be treated, treat others, and when to ask for support in an online environment. 

Relationships and Well-Being

Another common concern for teachers and parents is excessive screen time (Common Sense Media & Survey Monkey, 2017). Digital media has facilitated social interactions and learning opportunities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and social media has become one of the most used platforms for communication (Rideout et al., 2021). A study by Hopelab and Well Being (Rideout & Fox, 2018) revealed that over 90% of youths between the age of 14 and 22 use social media. Instead of focusing on the quantity of time spent on social media, students must learn meaningful ways to use it and balance screen time and quality offline activities (James et al., 2021). 

Safety and Identity

Digital age learners are born with technology, and social networking platforms allow them to consume, create, and share content. In the process of exploration and expression, they develop their online identities (Boyd, 2008); however, they also leave their digital footprint (Camacho et al., 2012) and private information online (Martin et al., 2019). Students must understand that their digital footprint is permanent. They must consider what kind of identity they want to portray and the consequences of incessantly displaying that image to the public. Moreover, students must learn the difference between private information and information that they can share (James et al., 2021). 

Media Literacy and Integrity

Social media has become a significant source of news for students. According to a survey presented in the report Teens and the News 2020, nearly 80% of young learners between the ages of 10 and 18 consume news from social media (Robb, 2020); however, over 50% of students in that age group cannot differentiate false from real content (Robb, 2017). Students must be educated on how to examine and evaluate online news critically. Fact-checking alone is insufficient. To recognize bias and identify fabricated news, they must also evaluate their own biases before disseminating information online (James et al., 2021). When consuming and distributing content, students must also consider intellectual property. Educators must guide students to understand the boundaries of fair use and avoid copyright infringements (James, 2014). 

Civic Participation

In addition to promoting individual responsibilities, it is equally important to encourage students to be influential citizens who can positively contribute to the community (Krutka & Carpenter, 2017). Since social media platforms have become an online space for students to voice their opinions and transmit information, educators can show students how this powerful tool, when used appropriately, can have positive influences on society. Social media is not only a platform for personal communication. It can be used to learn, empower, and address important social issues (Casa-Todd, 2018; Gleason & von Gillern, 2018).

Applications

An effective way for educators to promote DC is to facilitate lessons incorporating the social media that the students choose (Tapscott, 2009) to increase awareness of relevant academic and social issues (Gleason & von Gillern, 2018). Integrating social media into the curriculum can prepare and motivate students to act as responsible digital participants in formal and informal environments. 

Social Media and Digital Citizenship in the Curriculum

Before embracing the use of social media, educators can teach the concepts of DC through case studies on discussion board forums. The case studies can be presented in multiple formats, including written scenarios, videos, images, and real posts taken from different social media platforms. Students can express opinions, share ideas, and reflect on real-life situations related to cyberbullying, netiquette, relationships, well-being, safety, identity, media literacy, integrity, and civic participation connected to the topics studied in class. The discussions create opportunities for students to practice respect, self and peer evaluations of biases, and reflection. Teachers must encourage students to form the habit of questioning who the target audience is and the purpose and source of the posts to eliminate biases and favouring of a particular voice (Krutka & Krutka & Carpenter, 2016). By monitoring the students’ responses on the discussion board, teachers can evaluate the students’ understanding of the concepts and decide when students can move forward to applying theory to practice on social media. 

Social Media Hashtags

When students are ready to participate in social media platforms, they can employ the strategies they have learned from the DC case studies. Utilizing hashtags is an effective way for students to create, find, categorize, and join conversations on a particular topic on social media (Flores et al., 2013). They can be created and searched by adding the symbol “#” in front of a word or phrase directly related to the topic of interest (hashtags.org, 2012). Hashtags can be a powerful social media tool to raise awareness of important issues, give voice to underrepresented populations, question authenticity, and participate in larger conversations. For instance, to raise awareness of systemic racism, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was created. To give voice to poorly represented groups, such as student voice in education, the hashtag #StuVoice was generated. #NotBuyingIt was created to increase attention and question a company’s ethics (Krutka & Carpenter, 2017). Educators can guide students in creating hashtags and search using hashtags to invite and join conversations that matter to them. 

Social Media Content

Educators can also encourage students to share studying strategies, promote community activities, and raise awareness of global issues on social media using infographics. For instance, students can create and share a flow chart or mind map showing steps to solving mathematical problems. Students can also participate and assist in broadcasting a community event, such as a local food drive, on social media platforms. On a grander scale, students can increase attention to the world food supply status by creating and distributing an infographic with the latest statistics (Gleason & von Gillern, 2018). Social media content should be short to maximize engagement (Lee, 2014). Therefore, students must comprehend the material well enough to summarize the essential information to create a post. Using social media in the curriculum can enhance academic skills and civic engagement. 

Implementation Challenges

According to the Common Sense census presented by Rideout and Robb (2019), 97% of young children have access to a smartphone, and 75% have a tablet in the household. Nearly 50% of all children have their own mobile devices. The percentage rises as the age group increases. At 18, over 90% of students own a smartphone. Even though the accessibility of a smart device is almost universal, there may be students who cannot bring a device to school, especially in the younger age group, who may need to share their device with the family. Young learner educators can plan more collaborative assignments, and students can share devices. When there are limited devices to share, teachers can create a social media account for the class, cast the class computer on a projection screen, and co-produce posts with children. Another challenge is that students will learn that sharing and commenting on posts on social media are subject to dislikes and disapprovals (Nesi et al., 2018). These challenges should be taken as lessons for students to realize the world is not about being right or wrong but to learn about having discussions and respecting others’ views. 

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

While many negative concerns are associated with social media, it is more effective to guide students using positive reinforcements instead of restricting their activities (Ciccone, 2019). Banning or limiting the use of social media is not a solution but an escape to the problem. Students should not have to learn DC through reading definitions isolated from context so that teachers can mark that objective as complete (Casa-Todd, 2018). Learning must be authentic and in context for students to find relevance and connect to the real world (Donovan et al., 2002). Integrating social media purposefully into school curriculums can develop citizens who can think critically, behave safely, participate responsibly, and empower meaningfully in the digital world (Common Sense Education, n.d.; Gleason & von Gillern, 2018).

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