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09 Aug, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

Appropriate use of technology

You only have to look in a classroom to realize how much technology has inundated children’s lives. Peek into a class today and you’ll see even little ones tapping away at computer keyboards. And tucked into many children’s pockets will be cell phones that allow them not only to call friends, but also to send text messages, play games and even surf the Internet (but not during class!).

As new technologies arrive — think of the current love affair with the iPad — educators and parents are facing a need to help children develop the skills, knowledge and savvy to use these tools in responsible ways. The pitfalls of not providing this support are easy to spot, from issues of cyber bullying to struggles over projects where kids have essentially copied large chunks of text directly from the Internet (i.e. plagiarism).

Now, the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) is tackling the issue head-on through a new Digital Citizen Program, which will start in elementary-level classes in September and eventually be implemented in high schools and adult education programs. The purpose is to teach students how to respectfully and responsibly use digital devices (like laptops, phones, ipods and computers), by educating them in nine key areas:

  1. Digital access — examining people’s access to different technologies and the barriers to using them (for example, how being blind affects the technologies you use).
  2. Digital commerce — looking at what is appropriate to buy and sell online and how to prevent fraud and identify theft.
  3. Digital communication — helping people think about selecting the most appropriate technologies to help them communicate with others (for example, choosing to phone someone rather than text when the topic requires a more in-depth discussion).
  4. Digital literacy — taking the time to learn about and understand new technologies, their strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Digital etiquette — teaching people to use technology in a way that is respectful of others (for example, not answering a cell phone while eating supper).
  6. Digital law – exploring how society is responding to new technological challenges with laws covering copyright or, in schools, rules about copying texts from the Internet.
  7. Digital rights and responsibilities — helping people understand their rights and responsibilities when using different technologies (for example, what to do if someone starts harassing you with unwanted emails).
  8. Digital wellness and health — teaching people to monitor how technology use is affecting their physical and mental health (for example, watching out for repetitive stress injuries or avoiding compulsive use of text messaging).
  9. Digital security — learning how to protect our personal information when we are online or using other technologies.

This program is based on work by Dr. Mike Ribble, a U.S. educator and technology specialist who established these nine areas of competence. While the details about implementation have yet to be worked out, the school board is eager to have parental input and involvement through Town Hall meetings. In the future, workshops will be offered to parents so they too can learn about the responsible use of the technology.

This is the first time such a program will be implemented on a broad scale in Quebec’s schools and vocational centres. (The Calgary Board of Education also has a Digital Citizen Program that has been implemented in over 200 of the province’s schools). Since the Quebec launch, the LBPSB has been approached by schools and school boards in Manitoba and Ontario for guidelines on how to replicate this program for their students.

However, this isn’t the first time cyber citizenry and media awareness has been attempted on a large scale. In 2009, the Girl Guides of Canada launched a Cybercitizen Challenge supported by the Media Awareness Network where girls earned a badge for passing a set of tests on appropriate web use. The Network has been branching out across Canada since the early 2000s to make parents and schools aware of the risks of cyber bullying and using the Internet responsibly.

To learn how to get involved with the decision-making process, visit www.lbpsb.qc.ca.

To learn more about the nine steps to becoming a digital citizen, visit www.digitalcitizenship.net

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