SETTING THE SCENE: The digital age is here to stay. Our students are deemed 'digital natives' because they were born into a world where engaging with digital technologies and social media is the norm. There is no precedent for its moral and ethical use. It seems to be a 'learn-as-you-go' approach. We know this approach doesn't work, so companies like Google and Common Sense Media have released the "Digital Citizenship Curriculum" to help teachers educate their students. Employers are searching for graduates who not only have the Three Rs but also the Four Cs. These include things like; critical thinking skills, communication skills, creativity & innovation skills and collaboration & team building skills. These skills are readily identifiable in the Australian Curriculum's General Capabilities. We all acknowledge that technology helps us to facilitate the development of these skills. But how do we teach students to be RESPONSIBLE with its use?
THE METAPHOR: I like to compare the use of digital tools and technologies to that of a high-speed performance vehicle. Both are similar in the fact that they give you freedom, access to places you couldn't normally go and require practice & training before you're allowed to use them... well, one does anyway. When your teenager comes of age, passes their driving test and is legally allowed to drive, do you just toss them your keys? Of course you don't! You have word to them about taking it easy on the roads, going slow, not speeding, you speak to them about being courteous of other drivers and while you may have complete faith in their driving skills and abilities, you always give them the chat about keeping their eyes peeled for the other "idiots" that they may encounter on the roads. They have a license, it's a privilege not a right. It can be taken away at the slightest indication of misuse. Why then, do we give students high-speed internet devices without training and practice? You need a license to drive a car.... perhaps in schools we need to give students a 'digital device license'? That may not be the answer, that may seem extreme but once upon time we thought writing with a ball point pen was so important, that we had school licenses for those.
I would like to ask schools; If you are in the process of formulating some sort of financial plan for the one to one roll out of digital devices, shouldn’t you also be formulating a digital citizenship policy to go along with it?
KIDS TODAY: Think about this generation of digital natives – Social media is all about ME. Tweeting about what I think about a topic, taking photos of myself or “selfies” – checking in to all the ‘cool spots’ – it’s about telling everyone all about YOU! Does anyone care you had blueberry muffin for breakfast & ran 5 kilometres = no! But odds are you’ll get at least 3 likes and a comment about it… It's an egocentric world. Information in this digital age carries faster than any time before. Word can spread quickly about a party, clothes sale or a lost dog. This is a powerful thing (hence my metaphor above). This generation can breed hate quicker than ever before thanks to the speed of the internet. Why do the youth of today think it is okay to be mean and nasty to others online? Why do they think it’s okay to video events that are socially unjust and post them online – Why don’t they use the phone to call for help? It's as if the real world rules don't apply online.
THE DIGITAL FOOTPRINT: What students need to realise is that everything you do online is logged and recorded somewhere. Not only that, it's out there for the entire world to see, perhaps forever. You leave an imprint of your life when you engage and interact in digital ways. What do you want that imprint to say about you? Teachers need to lead the way with this. Teacher's need to be role models in the responsible use of digital technologies and social media. I recently heard story from a Principal who "Googled" his top three interview candidates for a position at his school. One application went straight into the bin and she'll never know why. He saw a photo of her drunk on Facebook, passed out, vomit on her beautiful gown and slouched on the floor. Maybe he could've looked past it if it was a photo from 5 years ago but it was only just posted the week before.
USING YOUR POWER FOR GOOD NOT EVIL: George Curous talks about how we might be setting the bar too low for our kids. Digital Citizenship is about more than just "being good online" (read his article here). He talks about how, with the power of the internet, social media and digital devices, kids have opportunities like we never had before! Imagine what a difference you can make with the power of the internet? Do you want to be remembered as the person who filmed the school bus fight and posted it online? Or do you want to be someone like Julien Leitner. A 14 year old who used a 100 second video to try and raise two million dollars for charity? The Fingerprint Projects lists 'cool stuff kids do' and raises awareness of activists, entrepreneurs, innovators and philanthropists under 18 who are just like Julien. Shouldn't we be encouraging students to use this power for good not evil?
DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP AND CATHOLIC SCHOOLS: What makes Catholic Schools different to government schools? It's the way we live out our Gospel values in our school communities. It is not that we teach Religion. In the document, "The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School" (1988) talks about how... God put the world at the service of the human family and that it is up to us to live out the Gospel values of love, grace, justice, freedom and peace [paraphrased].
Basically, we need to be the change we want to see in the world (Ghandi). We need to teach our students to live in the way Jesus taught and only through doing this, are we able to proclaim the Good News through witness and word. What this means is that the Gospel values should permeate everything we do in the school setting, the Values should permeate every learning area. We need to explain to our students that, if you're being a clown online, if you're being nasty or you're doing something that is deceitful, greedy or unjust then you aren't living like Jesus. Ultimately, we are here to serve God. Speaking from a Western Australian Perspective, The Western Australian Bishops Mandate states:
"Education should never be for self-centred purposes, such as to acquire personal power, material prosperity or success. Rather, it should be to help people develop into the integrated persons God intends, including as individuals who have learned to 'serve and be responsible for others"
The Bishops Mandate 2009-2015; The Value of All Human Learning 
SERVE AND BE RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHERS. That to me, is key.
In addition to Australian schools teaching the core subjects, we also weave the General Capabilities and Cross Curriculum Priorities through the curriculum. As Western Australian Catholic Educators, we also have a set of Cross Curriculum Priorities to integrate - that is the Gospel Values and Teachings of the Catholic Church.
When we provide students with access to digital resources in our schools, is it good enough to just teach them to 'behave' online ? Or should we be aiming higher than that, as George Curous recommends. We should be looking at exploring the power of love, service and humility via the power of the digital age. Websites like the Fingerprint Projects highlight children who are doing this.
This also from the mandate:
"Values are critical to evaluating real life situations, and working out how to respond to them. Students also need to understand values to interpret the real meaning of their life experiences"
As Educators, we need to seriously think about the power our digital natives have and to teach them, with love, kindness and support how to do great things to change the world. We need to teach them to proclaim the Good News just like Jesus did. Because after all, they have a miraculous power he never had - high-speed internet access!