Modelling Good Digital Citizenship

Are you encouraging the kids you teach to break the law and to steal from others?

Being kind online and making the internet a safer space for others is one way to be a good digital citizen. Another, and one that is frequently becoming more important as technology makes online sharing ubiquitous, is to respect copyright.

Of course, students will already be aware of some of the rhetoric around illegal file sharing as it pertains to movies and music, and most teachers would likely encourage them to obey the law in that regard, but there is a huge misunderstanding of copyright when it comes to instances of copying and sharing other texts.

Schools take plagiarism very seriously, but there is a blind spot that many teachers have when it comes to acquiring materials to be used in class. Class handouts, web pages, and Powerpoint presentations are often enriched by teachers with striking imagery found via Google images. However, often these images are reused without permission or attribution. If a student were to do the same with the ideas in their essay, it would likely lead to punishment, but teachers often get a free pass.

The confusion comes from the notion of the ‘public domain.’ Many mistakenly believe that if it can be found on Google images it is in the public domain and can therefore be used freely. Of course, public domain is a legal term for works no longer under copyright. Some works can be placed in the public domain if the copyright holder rescinds their copyright, and there are other licencing options available to make it clear to users that they have permission to use works found online according to particular conditions.

So what can teachers do about with this information to help students become more responsible digital citizens?

Firstly, teachers should only use images they have permission to use. If using Google images, you can refine the search results to display only those images that have licences that allow for reuse.

Search for images with the appropriate usage rights using Google's search tools
Search for images with the appropriate usage rights using Google’s search tools
The second thing teachers should do is ensure that all material they use for class that they did not create themselves should identify the original source as accurately as possible. If you do not know where an image came from, Google has a neat reverse lookup tool that you can use by dragging an image from your computer onto the Google Images search bar. This will find other versions of the image posted online. It is easier to attribute images appropriately if you ensure you note the appropriate details as you find them.

Simply drag and drop an image onto the Google images search bar to do a reverse search
Simply drag and drop an image onto the Google images search bar to do a reverse search
Finally, teachers should hold students to a higher standard than they may be used to. I’ve had many students in the past credit the source of their images as ‘Google Images’. While this may be the actual place the kids found the material they used, it does not adequately credit the real creator of their borrowed media. Students should also be taught to be more aware of the creators making their work available so that they can be credited appropriately.

Did I miss a trick you find helpful in finding original sources of images online? If so, let me know in the comments.

Related post: Better Digital Citizenship – Be Kind Onlline

Modelling Good Digital Citizenship

Better digital citizenship – Be kind online

Do Not Feed the Troll, By Sam Fentress (traced to SVG by James Hales) CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Do Not Feed the Troll, By Sam Fentress (traced to SVG by James Hales) CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Digital citizenship quite rightly receives a lot of attention at the moment in schools. The focus tends to be on cyber-bullying and considering the consequences of kids’ digital footprints. This makes a lot of sense, but I wonder if we sometimes have the focus in the wrong place?

We focus on telling kids ‘be safe‘ but the message to all should be ‘make safe‘. Much like the misguided advice to given to women to stop them from being attacked, such as telling them how to dress, where to go and who to go with, we place too much responsibility on the victims to protect themselves and not enough on making the perpetrators of the problem accountable or in training people how to better behave. Particularly in the English classroom, I think we have a unique place to be able to offer guidelines for behaviour online that could help the next generation make the internet a safer space for all. One suggestion for better digital citizenship that often gets mentioned is: be kind. The list of 8 guidelines below suggests how students can be kind online.

A growing number of classes are producing their work on blogs for the world to see. This is a wonderful way to have the class extend beyond the four walls of the classroom. For the most part, this publishing is regarded as a way for students to share their work, but the stronger opportunity it provides is the way it encourages them to comment upon each other’s ideas.

On the internet, most of the time, ‘comment’ is the wrong verb to describe what we should aim for in online discourse. Too often, ‘comments’ are fired off from a distance where the true personal damage they cause is barely witnessed. ‘Comment’ implies making a considered and weighty pronouncement on an issue. Yet in the online battles that erupt around volatile issues, where the damage often happens, comments often come from a place of ignorance, bigotry or malice. Ignorance can be forgiven, but it must also be accounted for and corrected. Not knowing something is not shameful, but refusing to learn when the opportunity presents itself is.

It is all too easy to comment online, and as a result we filter out own thoughts too poorly. Here are some general guidelines to constraining your online comments in order to help keep the Internet a safe environment for all and a rigorous forum for important ideas. I’d like to see these ideas shared with students, and not only applied to the comments they leave on each other’s class work, but also carried into other fora, such as Reddit and the ever murky YouTube comments section.

Eight Guidelines for Commenting

  1. Do not respond when the only source for your opinion is your own emotional response, gut reaction, instinct or ‘common sense.’ Do rely upon trustworthy sources and consider alternative opinions from trustworthy sources when they exist.
  2. Do not engage if you are too emotionally invested to consider alternate viewpoints reasonably. Do attempt to honestly (and privately) explore the reason you have such a strong feeling about the issue.
  3. Listen carefully to people who claim to be adversely impacted by an issue, and do not respond with a knee-jerk reaction. Do ask what you could personally do to lessen the adverse impact they feel.
  4. Accept that somebody’s lived experience is more credible than something you did not experience first hand, regardless of how highly you think of the source of your information.
  5. Accept that people can have different lived experiences. One does not negate the another.
  6. Understand that your right to express an opinion does not come before somebody else’s right to be safe.
  7. Understand that your right to free speech does not mean somebody facilitating the discussion in which you are taking part has to accept, permit or validate everything you say. It only means you won’t be arrested unless you break a law with your speech.
  8. Ask questions only if you think you do not already know the answer. If you ask a question as a trap in order to catch someone in what you perceive to be a lie or false thinking, you are not asking the question in good faith. This may be ignored in some situations, but the better path to take is to only ask questions in good faith. Online discussions should not be about winning or scoring points, but about promoting knowledge.

This list grew out of my own observations of how online discussion around hot-topics such as race relations, feminism, religion, and politics always seem to go. I don’t think my list is exhaustive, so if you have suggestions to add, I’d love to hear them and happily amend the post where appropriate.

Related post: Modelling Good Digital Citizenship

Better digital citizenship – Be kind online