In her book Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats, Nancy Willard states, "Cyberbullying and cyberthreats are new concerns that have not been fully addres by the academic community." In fact, our students are receiving very little instruction from anybody regarding responsible online behavior and being an effective online citizen. Too often, efforts to address such knowledge is done as an add-on somewhere rather than an full set of principles and values that students should demonstrate while engaging in online activity.
In chapter five of her book, Willard provides what she calls "strategies to address negative influences of technology on behavior." This list of six strategies is an excellent starting point for teaching students how engage in responsible behavior as a 21st century citizen. I would encourage you to explore more fully Willard's book, Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats.
- Be Kind Online. Too often, because of the anonymity of life online, the values people have do not translate to people's online personas. Elias Aboujaoude's new book, Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality does an excellent job of describing how people often exhibit an online personality that is quite different from their offline one. Still, we need to emphasize to our students the importance of exhibiting the same value of showing kindness to others online as we do offline. Students need to understand that the online world is invariably connected to the offline world.
- Online People Are Real People Too. At least they need to understand that online people are most often connected to real people offline. Our students need to deploy the same empathy for people online that they use in the offline world. They need to consider the perspective of others whether online or off. Using examples of where young people have been harmed by cyberbullying will help students understand how the harmful actions online affect real people offline.
- What You Do Reflects on You. Our students sometimes do not make the connection with how their online behavior affects their reputations. They need to understand that the online choices they make are a reflection of the kind of person they are offline. Just providing students with rules to guide their online behavior is not enough. They need to understand that their online behavior is who they are.
- Think First. Willard suggests that we teach students to engage in effective decision-making when engaging in online activities. In her book she provides a series of questions to guide students in reflecting about their online activity. 1) Am I being kind and showing respect for others and myself? 2) How would I feel if someone did the same thing to me or to my best friend? 3) What would my mom or dad think? 4) Does my actions violate agreements, rules, or laws? 5) Would it be okay if I did this in the real world? 6) Am I trying to think my way out of a wrong act? 7) How would I feel if everyone could see me? and 8) How would this action reflect on me?
- Life Online Is Not Just a Game. Online actions have real-world consequences. Students need to understand the possible legal ramifications of online behaviors such as cyberthreats.
- You Are Leaving Cyberfootprints. Students sometimes feel that their online personas are totally anonymous and undetectable. That is not entirely true. Their online actions are creating an online self that invariably can be connected to their offline selves. This is one consequence many students and even adults are experiencing the hard way.
Educators have a responsibility to teach students about responsible online behavior if we value teaching them citizenship in the offline world. Too often, we are still leaving the learning of appropriate online behavior to chance. Twenty-first century school leaders have a responsibility in making sure our students are responsible citizens in the 21st century world, online or offline.